Threads (1984 film)

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Threads
Genre
Written byBarry Hines
Directed byMick Jackson
Starring
Country of origin
  • United Kingdom
  • Australia
Original languageEnglish
Production
Executive producersGraham Massey
John Purdie
Producers
Cinematography
Editors
  • Jim Latham
  • Donna Bickerstaff
Running time112 minutes
Production companies
Budget£400,000[1]
Original release
NetworkBBC
Release23 September 1984 (1984-09-23)

Threads is a 1984 British-Australian apocalyptic war drama television film jointly produced by the BBC, Nine Network and Western-World Television Inc. Written by Barry Hines and directed and produced by Mick Jackson, it is a dramatic account of nuclear war and its effects in Britain, specifically on the city of Sheffield in Northern England. The plot centres on two families as a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union erupts. As the nuclear exchange between NATO and the Warsaw Pact begins, the film depicts the medical, economic, social and environmental consequences of nuclear war.[2]

Shot on a budget of £400,000, the film was the first of its kind to depict a nuclear winter. It has been called "a film which comes closest to representing the full horror of nuclear war and its aftermath, as well as the catastrophic impact that the event would have on human culture."[3] It has been compared to the earlier Academy Award-winning programme The War Game (1966) produced in the United Kingdom two decades prior and its contemporary counterpart The Day After, a 1983 ABC television film depicting a similar scenario in the United States. It was nominated for seven BAFTA awards in 1985 and won for Best Single Drama, Best Design, Best Film Cameraman, and Best Film Editor.

Plot[edit]

Soviet troop movements into Iran as shown in a newspaper clipping early in the film (with occupied Afghanistan in red)

In the English city of Sheffield, young adults Ruth Beckett and Jimmy Kemp plan to marry after learning of Ruth's unplanned pregnancy. Meanwhile, a crisis between the superpowers develops after the Soviet Union invades northern Iran in response to an American-backed coup in the country. The United States responds by occupying southern Iran and deploys B-52 Stratofortress bombers to Turkey upon learning that the Soviet Union has moved nuclear warheads into Mashhad.

The British Army reinforces NATO forces in Western Europe following news of a Warsaw Pact military build-up in East Germany. The President of the United States accuses the Soviets of sinking the USS Los Angeles when she is lost with all hands off the coast of Iran, but still attempts to resolve the situation in Iran peacefully by proposing a joint withdrawal to the Soviet Union through an ultimatum. The Soviets ignore the ultimatum and Warsaw Pact forces continue to mobilize, resulting in a conventional attack by the US B-52 bombers over the Soviet base at Mashhad when the deadline expires. The Soviets respond with a nuclear-tipped air defense missile, destroying many of the American bombers. The US then detonates a tactical nuclear weapon over Mashhad, destroying the Soviet base and ending the battle there.

The head of the Sheffield city council is instructed to start making preparations for a nuclear war and is informed that all control of Sheffield and the surrounding area after a nuclear attack will be passed on to him and other local officials should the central government be destroyed. When news of the breakout of hostilities between the US and Soviet forces reach the public, Britain is spurred into panic buying and looting and the British Government enacts the Emergency Powers Act 1964. This gives local authorities the powers to suspend peacetime function and to confiscate property and material for civil defence purposes. All non-essential phone lines are cut, and anti-war protests are violently suppressed. Travel is restricted to essential services only, and the government takes control of British Airways and cross-English Channel ferries to assist with transporting troops to Continental Europe. In the meantime, open warfare erupts between the American and Soviet navies in the Persian Gulf, and the Soviets blockade West Berlin. Sheffield Council's local officials gather in their emergency bunker, located underneath the town hall.

At 8:30 am in Britain (3:30 am in Washington, the time when Western response would be at its slowest as the President and the senior staff would be asleep), Attack Warning Red is transmitted. Minutes later, a nuclear detonation occurs over the North Sea, generating an electromagnetic pulse which damages communications across Britain and northwestern Europe. A secondary attack then impacts NATO military targets, including RAF Finningley, 17 miles (27 km) from Sheffield. The mushroom cloud produced by the second detonation is seen from Sheffield, and its population is thrown into terror after its shockwave strikes, injuring hundreds. A third and final attack strikes Sheffield itself, specifically aimed at destroying primary economic and industrial targets such as the Tinsley Viaduct. The detonation causes massive structural damage to Sheffield, and an estimated 12 to 30 million people in the UK are instantly killed in the wider nuclear exchange, including Jimmy as he races to be with Ruth. Jimmy’s family succumbs to radiation poisoning just a few days later.

An hour following the attack, prevailing winds have blown fallout from a ground burst at Crewe over Sheffield. Communications between local authorities are shown to be established but limited due to disruption. Fires are left to burn uncontrollably, as the danger of fallout is too high; no rescue attempts occur for similar reasons. Hospitals not destroyed in the bombings are overwhelmed as survivors crowd them, hoping for aid, but with electricity, clean water, and vital support facilities gone, supplies of anaesthetic and antiseptics rapidly run out, with doctors forced to perform surgeries without any means to dull pain, and only ordinary table salt to sterilise wounds. With limited capability to control the situation, the local government begins to break down and survivors are mostly left to fend for themselves. Trapped under the wreckage of Sheffield Town Hall, the town council tries calling for help over a basic radio, but the only reply says neither the British military nor anyone else can do anything for them. A month after the nuclear attacks, soldiers finally arrive, only to find that the town council had long since perished, suffocated from the lack of oxygen in the confined space. Ruth flees her family’s basement shelter; her parents and grandmother are later killed by looters.

The ash caused by the nuclear explosions and the resulting fires are distributed throughout the atmosphere, blocking out most sunlight and causing a nuclear winter; crops fail, triggering mass starvation. A year later, sunlight returns but with a higher ultraviolet index due to damage to the ozone layer, which in turn increases the likelihood of cataracts and cancer. Crop cultivation is possible, but yields are poor due to the lack of fertilisers and equipment. Capital punishment is authorised by the government, whose attempts to maintain order are largely ignored by the surviving British public. Food becomes the only form of currency, being awarded for labour and withheld as punishment. The narrator describes the cruel irony of the situation, in that the more people die, the more food is available for those who survive. Several people, including Ruth, flee to the Buxton countryside where she briefly meets Jimmy's old work colleague Bob. Whilst there, she gives birth to her daughter.

Ten years later, what remains of Britain's surviving population has dropped to a medieval level of 4 to 11 million people, and the UK remains devastated. Survivors primarily work in cultivating crops by hand or with basic tools, and children born after the war speak a reduced and broken form of English due to the absence of organized schooling. Ruth dies in bed, prematurely aged and blinded by cataracts. She is survived by her teenage daughter, Jane. Industry begins to return with limited electricity achieved through steam power, but the population continues to live in barbaric squalor. Three years after Ruth's death, Jane and two boys are caught stealing food. One of the boys is killed, and Jane and the other boy engage in a struggle for the food that degenerates into rape.[4] Months later, Jane gives birth in a makeshift hospital, and the film ends on a silent freeze frame as she looks at her baby in horror.

Cast[edit]

  • Paul Vaughan as the Narrator
  • Karen Meagher as Ruth Beckett
  • Reece Dinsdale as Jimmy Kemp
  • David Brierley as Mr Bill Kemp
  • Rita May as Mrs Rita Kemp
  • Nicholas Lane as Michael Kemp
  • Jane Hazlegrove as Alison Kemp
  • Phil Rose as Doctor Talbot
  • Henry Moxon as Mr Gordon Beckett
  • June Broughton as Mrs Beckett
  • Sylvia Stoker as Granny Beckett
  • Harry Beety as Clive J. Sutton (Controller)
  • Ruth Holden as Marjorie Sutton
  • Ashley Barker as Bob
  • Michael O'Hagan as Chief Superintendent Hirst
  • Phil Askham as Mr Stothard
  • Anna Seymour as Mrs Stothard
  • Fiona Rook as Carol Stothard
  • Steve Halliwell as Information Officer
  • Joe Holmes as Mr Langley
  • Victoria O'Keefe as Jane
  • Lesley Judd as TV newsreader
  • Lee Daley as Spike
  • Marcus Lund as Gaz
  • Ian Parkinson and Tony Grant as Radio Announcers

Production and themes[edit]

Our intention in making Threads was to step aside from the politics and – I hope convincingly – show the actual effects on either side should our best endeavours to prevent nuclear war fail.

Screenwriter Barry Hines[5]

Threads was first commissioned (under the working title Beyond Armageddon) by the Director-General of the BBC Alasdair Milne, after he watched the 1965 drama-documentary The War Game, which had not been shown on the BBC when it was made, due to pressure from the Wilson government, although it had had a limited release in cinemas.[6] Mick Jackson was hired to direct the film, as he had previously worked in the area of nuclear apocalypse in 1982, producing the BBC Q.E.D. documentary A Guide to Armageddon.[7][8] This was considered a breakthrough at the time, considering the previous banning of The War Game, which BBC staff believed would have resulted in mass suicides if aired.[citation needed] Jackson subsequently travelled around the UK and the US, consulting leading scientists, psychologists, doctors, defence specialists and strategic experts in order to create the most realistic depiction of nuclear war possible for his next film.[9] Jackson consulted various sources in his research, including the 1983 Science article Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions, penned by Carl Sagan and James B. Pollack. Details of a possible attack scenario and the extent of the damage were derived from Doomsday, Britain after Nuclear Attack (1983), while the ineffective post-war plans of the UK government came from Duncan Campbell's 1982 exposé War Plan UK.[10] In portraying the psychological damage suffered by survivors, Jackson took inspiration from the behaviour of the Hibakusha[6] and Magnus Clarke's 1982 book Nuclear Destruction of Britain.[10] Sheffield was chosen as the main location partly because of its "nuclear-free zone" policy that made the council sympathetic to the local filming[5] and partly because it seemed likely that the USSR would strike an industrial city in the centre of the country.[11]

Jackson hired Barry Hines to write the script because of his political awareness. The relationship between the two was strained on several occasions, as Hines spent much of his time on set, and apparently disliked Jackson on account of his middle class upbringing.[9] They also disagreed about Paul Vaughan's narration, which Hines felt was detrimental to the drama.[12] As part of their research, the two spent a week at the Home Office training centre for "official survivors" in Easingwold which, according to Hines, showed just "how disorganised [post-war reconstruction] would be".[13]

Auditions were advertised in The Star,[14] and took place in the ballroom of Sheffield City Hall, where 1,100 candidates turned up.[13] Extras were chosen on the basis of height and age, and were all told to look "miserable" and to wear ragged clothes; the majority were CND supporters.[12] The makeup for extras playing third-degree-burn victims consisted of Rice Krispies and tomato ketchup.[14] The scenes taking place six weeks after the attack were shot at Curbar Edge in the Peak District National Park; because weather conditions were considered too fine to pass off as a nuclear winter, stage snow had to be spread around the rocks and heather, and cameramen installed light filters on their equipment to block out the sunlight.[13] Although Jackson initially considered casting actors from Granada Television's Coronation Street, he later decided to take a neorealist approach, and opted to cast relatively unknown actors in order to heighten the film's impact through the use of characters the audience could relate to.[9]

In order for the horror of Threads to work, Jackson made an effort to leave some things unseen: "to let images and emotion happen in people's minds, or rather in the extensions of their imaginations".[12] He later recalled that while BBC productions would usually be followed by phone calls of congratulations from friends or colleagues immediately after airing, no such calls came after the first screening of Threads. Jackson later "realised...that people had just sat there thinking about it, in many cases not sleeping or being able to talk". He stated that he had it on good authority that Ronald Reagan watched the film when it aired in the US.[9] Along with Hines, Jackson also received a letter of praise from Labour leader Neil Kinnock, stating "the dangers of complacency are much greater than any risks of knowledge".[12][15]

Broadcast and release history[edit]

Threads works on the viewer with a peculiar power: one finds oneself horrified, fascinated, numbed, provoked, unsettled, made restless. Its power may be the effect of its oscillation between form and content being so heavily weighted toward the pole of content—in this case, that threat of nuclear destruction which cannot help but feel 'real'--so that we are unable to relax into Threads as 'just' a movie.

Professor Andrew Bartlett of UCLA[16]

Threads was a co-production of the BBC, Nine Network and Western-World Television, Inc. It was first broadcast on BBC Two on 23 September 1984 at 9:30 pm, and achieved the highest ratings on the channel (6.9 million) of the week.[5] It was repeated on BBC One on 1 August 1985 as part of a week of programmes marking the fortieth anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which also saw the first television screening of The War Game (which had been deemed too disturbing for television in the 20 years since it had been made). Threads was not shown again on British screens until the digital channel BBC Four broadcast it in October 2003.[17] It was also shown on UKTV Documentary in September 2004 and was repeated in April 2005.[18]

Threads was broadcast in the United States on cable network Superstation TBS on 13 January 1985,[19] with Ted Turner presenting the introduction.[20] This was followed by a panel discussion on nuclear war. It was also shown in syndication to local commercial stations and, later, on many PBS stations. In Canada, Threads was broadcast on Citytv in Toronto, CKVU in Vancouver[21] and CKND in Winnipeg,[22] while in Australia it was shown on the Nine Network on 19 June 1985.[23] Unusually for a commercial network, it broadcast the film without commercial breaks;[24] many commercial outlets in the United States and Canada that broadcast the film also did so without commercial interruption, or interrupting only for disclaimers or promos. In January 2018, journalist Julie McDowall led a distributed viewing of the film, encouraging the audience to share their reactions on Twitter under the hashtag #threaddread, as part of a campaign to ask the BBC to show the movie for the first time since 2003.[12]

Home media[edit]

Threads was originally released by BBC Video (on VHS and, for a very short period, Betamax) in 1987 in the United Kingdom. The film was re-released on both VHS and DVD in 2000 on the Revelation label, followed by a new DVD edition in 2005. Due to licensing difficulties the 1987 release replaced Chuck Berry's recording of his song "Johnny B. Goode" with an alternative recording of the song. In all these cases, the original music over the opening narration was removed, again due to licensing problems; this was an extract from the Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss, performed by the Dresden State Opera Orchestra, conducted by Rudolf Kempe (HMV ASD 3173).

On 13 February 2018, Threads was released by Severin Films on Blu-ray in the United States.[25][26] The programme was scanned in 2K from a broadcast print for this release, including extras such as an audio commentary with Director Mick Jackson and interviews with actress Karen Meagher, Director Of Photography Andrew Dunn, Production Designer Christopher Robilliard and film writer Stephen Thrower.[27][28] This is also the first home video release in which the extract from the Alpine Symphony remains intact.

On 9 April 2018, Simply Media released a Special Edition DVD in the UK, featuring a different 2K scan, restored and remastered from the original BBC 16mm CRI prints, which Severin did not have access to. This also featured all the original music, for the first time on home video in the UK. Whereas the previous releases had no extra features, the Special Edition included commentaries and associated documentaries.

Reception and legacy[edit]

Contemporary[edit]

Threads was not widely reviewed, but the critics who reviewed it gave generally positive reviews.[29] John J. O'Connor of The New York Times wrote that the film "is not a balanced discussion about the pros and cons of nuclear armaments. It is a candidly biased warning. And it is, as calculated, unsettlingly powerful."[30] Rick Groen of The Globe and Mail wrote that "[t]he British crew here, headed by writer Barry Hines and producer/director Mick Jackson, accomplish what would seem to be an impossible task: depicting the carnage without distancing the viewer, without once letting him retreat behind the safe wall of fictitious play. Formidable and foreboding, Threads leaves nothing to our imagination, and Nothingness to our conscience."[31] In his movie guide, Leonard Maltin gave the film a rating of three stars (out of a possible four). He called Threads "Britain's answer to The Day After" and wrote that the film was "unrelentingly graphic and grim, sobering, and shattering, as it should be".[32]

Retrospective[edit]

Retrospective reviews have been very positive. On Metacritic, the film has a score of 92 based on 5 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim",[33] whilst it has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 100% based on 10 reviews (with an average score of 8.90/10). The critical consensus reads: "An urgent warning against nuclear conflict, Threads is a chilling hypothetical that achieves visceral horror with its matter-of-fact presentation of an apocalypse".[29]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it a "masterpiece", writing: "It wasn't until I saw Threads that I found that something on screen could make me break out in a cold, shivering sweat and keep me in that condition for 20 minutes, followed by weeks of depression and anxiety".[34] Sam Toy of Empire gave the film a perfect score, writing that "this British work of (technically) science fiction teaches an unforgettable lesson in true horror" and went on to praise its ability "to create an almost impossible illusion on clearly paltry funds".[35] Jonathan Hatfull of SciFiNow gave a perfect score to the remastered DVD of the film. "No one ever forgets the experience of watching Threads. [...It] is arguably the most devastating piece of television ever produced. It's perfectly crafted, totally human and so completely harrowing you'll think that you'll probably never want to watch it again." He praised the pacing and Hines' "impeccable" screenplay and described its portrayal of the "immediate effects" of the bombing as "jaw-dropping [...] watching the survivors in the days and weeks to come is heart-breaking".[36] Both Little White Lies and The A.V. Club have emphasized the film's contemporary relevance, especially in light of political events such as Brexit.[37][38] According to the former, the film paints a "nightmarish picture of a Britain woefully unprepared for what is coming, and reduced, when it does come, to isolation, collapse and medieval regression, with a failed health service, very little food being harvested, mass homelessness, and the pound and the penny losing all value".[37]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film was nominated for seven BAFTA awards in 1985. It won for Best Single Drama, Best Design, Best Film Cameraman and Best Film Editor. Its other nominations were for Best Costume Design, Best Make-Up, and Best Film Sound.[39]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Audio Commentary: Mick Jackson. Threads. Dir. Mick Jackson. 1984. Blu-ray. Severin Films, 2018.
  2. ^ "THREADS (Mick Jackson, 1984) on Vimeo". 8 February 2018. Archived from the original on 20 February 2022. Retrieved 31 December 2020.
  3. ^ "Film and the Nuclear Age: Representing Cultural Anxiety" By Toni A. Perrine, p. 237 Archived 12 March 2023 at the Wayback Machine on Google books.
  4. ^ Mangan, Michael, ed. (1990). Threads and Other Sheffield Plays. Critical Stages. Vol. 3. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. p. 234. ISBN 978-1-850-75140-3. ISSN 0953-0533.
  5. ^ a b c Kibble-White, Jack (September 2001). "Let's All Hide in the Linen Cupboard". Off The Telly. Archived from the original on 16 October 2013. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  6. ^ a b Binnion, Paul (May 2003). "Threads" (PDF). Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies. University of Nottingham. ISSN 1465-9166. Archived (PDF) from the original on 23 February 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  7. ^ Q.E.D.: A Guide to Armageddon (TV Episode 1982) at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  8. ^ QED: A Guide to Armageddon. Nuclear war facts from the 1980s on YouTube
  9. ^ a b c d "End of the world revisited: BBC's Threads is 25 years old". The Scotsman. 5 September 2009. Archived from the original on 14 October 2013. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  10. ^ a b Hall, Kevin (21 January 2013). "Threads – Select References and Bibliography". Fallout Warning. Archived from the original on 14 February 2019. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  11. ^ Jackson, Mike (2018). Commentary. Threads (Special Edition).
  12. ^ a b c d e Rogers, Jude (17 March 2018). "Here come the bombs: the making of Threads, the nuclear war film that shocked a generation". newstatesman.com. Archived from the original on 12 October 2019. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  13. ^ a b c Bean, Patrick (3 January 2002). "Threads by Barry Hines". Archived from the original on 29 May 2010.
  14. ^ a b "Nuclear fallout in Sheffield". BBC South Yorkshire. 22 April 2005. Archived from the original on 21 October 2011. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  15. ^ Whitelaw, Paul (21 November 2013). "Threads – box set review". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 22 April 2017. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
  16. ^ Bartlett, Andrew (2004). "Nuclear Warfare in the Movies". Anthropoetics. UCLA. 10 (1). ISSN 1083-7264. Archived from the original on 28 June 2016. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  17. ^ Bunn, Mike (23 June 2010). "Threads – BBC Film Review". Suite 101.
  18. ^ "Sheffield film 'Threads'". sheffieldforum.co.uk. Archived from the original on 4 March 2018. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  19. ^ Clark, Kenneth R. (11 January 1985). "'Threads': Nightmare After the Holocaust". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 27 February 2015. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  20. ^ "WTBS introduction Threads 1985". YouTube. Archived from the original on 26 April 2017. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  21. ^ "Threads on CKVU 1984". YouTube. Archived from the original on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  22. ^ "CKND - Introduction to Threads (1985)". YouTube. Archived from the original on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  23. ^ Carlton, Mike (26 June 1985). "Clive has a certain appeal, despite the colonial cringe". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 16 November 2020. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  24. ^ Hutchinson, Garrie (27 June 1985). "Threads: A Devastating Piece Of TV". The Age. Archived from the original on 15 November 2020. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  25. ^ "Threads (1984)". blu-ray.com. Retrieved 11 October 2023.
  26. ^ "Threads (1984) Blu-ray". DVDDrive-In.com. Retrieved 11 October 2023.
  27. ^ "Threads Review (Severin Films Blu-ray)". Cultsploitation. 15 February 2018. Archived from the original on 19 September 2020. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  28. ^ Galgana, Michele "Izzy" (29 January 2018). "Blu-ray Review: THREADS Still Destroys". ScreenAnarchy. Archived from the original on 4 March 2018. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  29. ^ a b Threads at Rotten Tomatoes
  30. ^ O'Connor, John J. (12 January 1985). "TV: Years After Nuclear Holocaust". The New York Times. p. 42. Retrieved 11 October 2023.
  31. ^ The Globe and Mail, 2 March 1985.
  32. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2006). Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide. USA: Signet. pp. 1348. ISBN 0-451-21916-3.
  33. ^ "Threads". metacritic.com. Archived from the original on 9 January 2019. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  34. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (20 October 2014). "Threads: the film that frightened me most". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 8 May 2019. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  35. ^ Toy, Sam (1 January 2000). "Threads". Empire. Archived from the original on 10 April 2019. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  36. ^ "Threads remastered DVD review: this is the way the world ends". SciFiNow. 11 May 2018. Archived from the original on 19 February 2019. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  37. ^ a b "Discover the post-apocalyptic nightmare of this landmark social drama". Archived from the original on 21 October 2020. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  38. ^ "Threads served up a bleakly British depiction of our impending nuclear doom". The A.V. Club. 10 October 2017. Archived from the original on 5 August 2020. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
  39. ^ "Awards database". BAFTA. Archived from the original on 16 October 2013. Retrieved 13 November 2012.

External links[edit]