Starring: Karen Meagher, Reece Dinsdale & David Brierly
Written by: Barry Hines
Directed by: Mick Jackson
Running Time: 1hr 52mins
WINNER – BAFTA TV AWARDS: Best Single Drama (Mick Jackson), Best Film Cameraman (Andrew Dunn), Best Film Editor (Jim Latham) and Best Design (Christopher Robilliard)
NOMINEE – BAFTA TV AWARDS: Best Makeup (Jan Nethercot), Best Costume Design (Sally Nieper), Best Film Sound (Graham Ross, John Hale & Donna Bickerstaff)
NOMINEE – TELEVISION CRITICS ASSOCIATIONS AWARD: Outstanding Achievement in Specials
“There were a couple of times during filming, where I thought: ‘should I be making this?… I just tried to remember that this was my one chance of making a film like nothing people had ever seen before. We couldn’t hold back, because to do so would have been to not tell the truth. People had to see it.” – Director Mick Jackson talking about the movie THREADS – BBC.COM
Simply put, THREADS may well be one of the scariest and most disturbing movies ever made. Its ability to work on our fear of a very real Nuclear War scenario and what it would be like to survive is terrifying. It’s so honest in an incredibly unflinching way that it’s hard to believe it was originally made to be broadcast on the BBC and first aired in America on both TBS & PBS television unedited.
Most people probably remember or are more familiar with the 1983 American production with a similar agenda titled THE DAY AFTER. Filmmaker Nicholas Meyers (STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KAHN) and ABC created a movie that dared to show a realistic view of life after surviving a nuclear strike. Of course, then at the end of the film they admit, in text, that the filmmakers understood that a real nuclear situation would be worse. This may be the film’s biggest weakness because as effective as the movie may be (and I do highly recommend people check it out), it still comes off as a TV movie and its impact doesn’t even begin to compare to the horrific realizations brought forth in Mick Jackson’s film, THREADS. THREADS is a movie that draws no lines while refusing to tone down the realities of such a disaster and feels at times like a no holds barred warning to those who may not understand the true nature of what the aftermath of a nuclear war might really be like, especially to those unlucky enough to survive. It doesn’t admit to being a tamer version of what it wants to represent because the filmmakers go out of their way to make it as absolutely real as possible.
Set in the working-class city of Sheffield, Ruth (Karen Meagher) and Jimmy (Reece Dinsdale) are a young couple who find themselves expecting their first child out of wedlock. Everyday life is depicted through Ruth and Jimmy’s two families. One is lower class, while the other is more financially stable. Ruth and Jimmy seem to be relatively happy despite the unexpected pregnancy as they plan for an ordinary life together. Things like telling their parents the news and finding an apartment they can afford only to have to fix it up themselves feel so true to life that it helps to set an incredibly realistic tone for the film long before the fateful moment when the bombs hit.
Filmed on a low budget with a cast of unknowns THREADS never feels fake nor manipulative. Everything we experience in the film has an air of realism. The actors all have an everyman quality that makes them immediately relatable. From the relationships between the characters to the protestors outside who declare, “You cannot win a nuclear war” and the news broadcasts informing us of the impending war between the U.S. and Russia (A lot of times being played in the background on TVs and Radios, while people pay little attention and go about their lives as if they don’t really believe a nuclear strike could happen), the filmmakers make sure to keep everything as believable as possible in order to create an illusion of a world so real that it never feels as if we are watching a work of fiction.
The inevitable scene where the bombs are dropped is unapologetically terrifying. When they first begin to explode, everything plays out as we expect – people looking up at mushroom clouds in awe, crowds running in all directions and individuals building up barricades in their homes. Ruth runs to find Jimmy, who is running home to her – then, all of a sudden, without warning, the tone changes and everything gets a little too real a little too fast. Glass bottles melt, buildings start to explode and people are lit on fire right in front of our eyes. The visuals become incredibly compelling and even though it can be hard to watch, viewers will find themselves unable to look away. Then, when the chaos is over and everything settles down, we are shown the city on fire as a charred hand reaches up from the rubble and dead bodies are engulfed in flames. We see survivors suffering with scarred faces and damaged bodies as they react to the horrors that greet them in the aftermath.
Writer Barry Hines and Director Mick Jackson have successfully created a film that is an intentionally bleak and depressing experience. It has a point to get across and does so unapologetically and without filters. It introduces a rather dark view of the unfolding events with pretty much no hope ever eluded to. No heroes rise out of the smoke to save the day. There is no rebuilding. As the days, weeks and even years go by civilization begins to break down and life becomes unbearable as everything has been changed forever. When viewers are finished watching THREADS (actually, more like experiencing it), nobody will describe the film as something to be enjoyed. Its strength is in the fact that it doesn’t shy away from reality as it attempts to make the viewer as uncomfortable as possible. The imagery is real and never watered down. As a pregnant Ruth makes her way through the destruction, she passes a woman holding her dead baby to her breasts. The baby isn’t just dead though. It’s burnt to a crisp. Jackson’s need to reveal the subject matter’s truth forced him to create horrifying images that expose this truth. From the people suffering from Radiation poisoning and throwing up everything in their stomachs to the many burned-up dead bodies with rats crawling all over them that fill the streets, what we are being shown seems all too real. The scene where Ruth gives birth is both harrowing and emotional. Make no mistake, THREADS is a hard movie to sit through, but an important one too.
When it comes right down to it, a certain type of film is more important to experience in an honest, hard-to-believe what is being shown kind of way. When audiences reflect on their experiences watching films such as Oliver Stone’s PLATOON or Steven Spielberg’s SHINDLER’S LIST, they don’t remember having an enjoyable time at the movies. Films like these are hard to watch because of the terrible realities that the filmmakers are trying to explore. If you sugarcoat them, it makes the ideas being presented feel less important and less impactful. An audience doesn’t enjoy a film of this type as much as they respect what it has to say. Watching a movie like this is a psychological experience that can leave a viewer drained and emotionally spent. These movies are made to help us remember the travesties of the past so that we won’t be bound to repeat them or as with a film like THREADS, give us such an unforgettable viewing experience, one that is so terrifying as to wake us up to the terrible things that could await us in the future, so that we do our best to try and avoid them.
So few movies will change an audience member for life. After watching THREADS, you will not be the same person. Mick Jackson and his filmmaking team didn’t make it for viewers to enjoy. It is a movie that strives to place an incredibly real situation in front of us and properly educate us about it. The Cold War is over, but the threat of nuclear war is forever present. The impact of such a situation is not one to take lightly and the filmmakers revealed this back in the ’80s by not gently walking audiences through the scenario. The ideas and themes presented in THREADS are still as important today as they ever were. THREADS is a tough film to forget and you may not enjoy watching it, but you must just the same.
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