STARRING: Karen Meagher, Reece Dinsdale, David Brierly, Rita May, Nicholas Lane

1984, 112 Minutes, Directed by:
Mick Jackson

Description: 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 process?

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 imagination.

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



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