Apocalypse Right Now: Threads
"Cold War Britannia" is a sub-genre that has been a source of fascination to me for years now. A genre filled with dystopian “What If?” movies that populated the United Kingdom usually imagining the eminent fallout that would occur if the Cold War should turn Hot, and how a nation such as UK/Britain/England would survive nuclear attack. 1984's Threads fits alongside films such as When the Wind Blows, The Damned and The Bed Sitting Room populated British screens throughout the sixties-seventies, but the more sobering tone of Threads, makes Red Dawn and Fail-Safe look like child's play.
Although likened to the aforementioned titles around the postwar/cold war period, Threads presents a realistic nuclear devastation that says “we’re not kidding anymore." Threads delivers a proverbial jolt like a glass of ice water thrown in the face; its a stark portrayal and a point blank look at life before, during and long after the devastations of an atomic attack.
In The States, the Wold War was realized with a thematic buffer zone as dramas along the likes of Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove, placed government officials in bunkers away from any of the literal obliteration on the horizon; almost as if the reality of WWIII was too much to take on. Given the geography of the United Kingdom as a potential Soviet target, and the proliferation of nuclear strike on the (roughly) 94,000 mile the United Kingdom would have 600 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Around this period PSA’s such as Protect and Survive were in regular rotation on television and radio, with entries titled “Materials for your Fallout Shelter, Life Under Fallout Conditions, and Casualties”.
The notion of mass devastation was entirely visible in Britain and productions like Threads might seem aggressive in their tone but the decades following WWII were a constant prelude to WWIII. While The War Game plays like a docudrama, Threads is much more narrative driven with the same bold thrust of realism that sustains the unnerving portrayal the material. The story centers on two working-class lovers (Ruth and Jimmy) from Sheffield’s Steel City, however, tensions are mounting between American and Soviet world powers regarding Iranian agitators. An ultimatum is broken between the US and USSR thus spurning World War Three.
Threads is a picture that transcends the contemporary dramas of the era by shifting the focus to the effect of political discourse and looking at its effect on the civilian masses opposed to the bureaucratic interplay of the political thriller. By doing this Threads becomes something more than a “What If?” contemplation and becomes a horror film inspired by political forecasting. The first act is mostly a setup and the following a societal nosedive into decrepit anarchy while cryptic title cards inform us of the casualties, fallout rate, and dwindling population.
It’s an unflinching amalgam of stock footage, Cinéma vérité, and docudrama without a light hand. The characters might be thin as they are a springboard for the inevitable doomsday scenario but Mick Jackson (Director) and Barry Hines’ (writer) import a vital, and ugly reality that was not unlikely. Threads depicts a world that didn't come to pass but one we could have easily ended up with. Thankfully we have something as visceral as this teleplay/docudrama to reflect on.