STARRING: Karen Meagher, Reece Dinsdale,
David Brierly, Rita May, Nicholas Lane
1984, 112 Minutes, Directed by:
This powerful film depicts the aftermath of the most heinous destruction
imaginable - global thermonuclear war. A realistic and chilling portrayal.
Have you ever wondered what
might have happened if you had missed the bus, studied Mathematics instead of
Languages, taken that job after all, got married to Jill instead of Jane?
Threads is one big 'what
if?': What if the USA had gone to war with the Soviet union in the early 1980s,
each nation releasing strategic nuclear weapons on population centers in the
The documentary style drama
focuses on the fate of several disparate groups of people, all located in grey
and grim Sheffield in the North of England. Early scenes include factories
belching smoke intercut with scenes which could be straight from a nature
documentary. This mix juxtaposes post-industrialization man against the relative
fragility of other creatures in our environment. Urban landscapes which frame
several early scenes are characterized by grays and browns and utilitarian
fashions apparently made from sack cloth in some cases. This is depressing
enough and the bombs haven’t even started dropping yet!
Make no mistake about it – this
film is relentlessly gritty and direct. The use of special visual effects is
very understated and infrequent. Their implementation is stark (i.e. – freeze
and turn to black and white for a moment) and are all the more efficacious as a
result. This is an excellent creative choice. Another excellent choice is the
almost complete absence of music which magnifies the feeling that there is no
escape for the characters, or for you from bearing witness to their plight.
The narrator, with
clipped English accent, matter-of-factly relates to us facts and figures with
the assistance of on screen text console style, à la
Wargames, etc. This is almost a relief, in amongst some very graphic scenes
of human devastation. The film was nominated for a ‘Best Make-up’ Bafta (amongst
others) and I can see why: there is little in the way of artificial lighting, or
studio sets that I can see, so the make up has to stand up to close scrutiny.
Never once was my suspension of disbelief interrupted.
The story arc encompasses 13
years during which we follow the progression of Ruth Beckett (Karen Meagher)
from being a young expectant mother in difficult circumstances through to her
existence as a desperate scavenger in unbearable circumstances, desperately
trying to care for her young daughter. The relationship between mother and
daughter is barely touched upon and when it is we are exposed to the realities
of post-apocalyptic human behavior in all its callousness. It is tempting to
think that people would pull together and support one another, but I fear that
Threads presents a more accurate depiction of human nature under
impossible circumstances than that which I hold in my own optimistic
One understated yet poignant
scene which suggests a glimmer of hope for the future involves a small class of
children learning literacy from old video tapes as an old lady looks on, rocking
gently. Before long though one begins to suspect that there won’t be any new
videos made. Ever.
Watching a film like Threads
is different from watching the vast majority of other films I have ever seen
because it takes no great mental leap to imagine that it might actually have
happened, given just slightly adjusted circumstances. And this is despite the
almost unimaginable nature of the future it describes. Further to this, the
horror of seeing someone hunted and killed by sharks, or millions perishing in a
natural disaster, or the whole human race becoming extinct due to some
scientifically feasible cosmic event is never the same as when it is humans
doing it to each other.
I have seen it said elsewhere
that Threads has aged badly. I could not disagree more; despite being
almost two hours in length, the experience is over in a flash (excuse the pun).
Alongside its harrowing sensibilities it is real edge-of-the-seat stuff. Some
low production values only enhance the clarity of the message.
- Geoff Clayton