No one ever forgets the experience of watching Threads. The 1984 BBC TV movie, directed by Mick Jackson and written by Barry Hines, 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.
But the thing about Threads is that it doesn’t go away. In the noughties it seemed to have taken on a cult status that bordered on urban legend (“You think that film’s upsetting? Have you seen Threads?”), and now our world leaders are so terrifying that the argument has been made that it should be aired again to remind people what the effects of a nuclear conflict look like.
This handsome new restoration (which comes with a commentary, interviews and other goodies) has scrubbed away a lot of the grime from previous DVD releases (so much so that it takes a little getting used to) but the impact is exactly the same. Barry Hines’ impeccable screenplay spends close to an hour setting the scene, as young Sheffield couple Ruth Beckett (Karen Meagher) and Jimmy Kemp (Reece Dinsdale) fret about her unexpected pregnancy while tensions in the Middle East continues to escalate.
The pacing is perfect. We watch these relatable characters try to push the doom and gloom out of their minds with variations on “There’s nothing we can do about it” until emergency preparations for annihilation make it impossible to carry on as normal. They’re doing the best they can, and doing what the government tells them to, but nothing can prepare them for the reality of what’s to come. Once the bomb drops, Jackson and Hines do not flinch. The immediate effects are jaw-dropping and watching the survivors in the days and weeks to come is heart-breaking. A group of local council members in a bunker realising that they are going to have to let people starve to death, the inability to bury the dead, and the RP voice-over explaining the effects of fall-out dust and nuclear winter…You’ll never forget it.
Picture credit: © BBC 1984