Inspired by the leaked “Protect and Survive” films, in 1984 a BBC films team set out to create a relentlessly accurate vision of an atomic bomb landing on Sheffield. By accurate, we mean there’s no Will Smith to save us, no precocious teens with powers they’re only beginning to understand, none of that. What there is in Threads, the 1984 UK Post-Nuclear drama, is despair, and filth, and violence, and more despair. Directed by Mick Jackson (who, bizarrely, went on to direct The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston), a veteran BBC documentarian at the time, Threads is still considered to be the most realistic portrayal of Nuclear warfare put to film.
Directed as an unflinching news account of a nuclear attack, In Threads, amputations are delivered without anaesthetic; people bite on rags, a woman chews through her own umbilical cord. Humans build feeble shelters to be obliterated only seconds later, animals are encrusted with disease which they pass on to starving mutants, and looters kill with abandon as society collapses around the slowly dying citizens of Sheffield. We follow Ruth, who unexpectedly becomes pregnant on the eve of the Cold War ending by an ICBM exchange, and Jimmy, who quickly becomes evaporated as a Megaton warhead explodes above the city. As Ruth struggles to survive and escape the collapse of industrial Britain, we see first hand how people without anything left will do anything to survive.
What follows the initial assault is famine, disease and nuclear winter. Almost everyone dies, and those that live do so in barbaric squalor. A feeble harvest a decade after the war shows the hopelessness of the remaining 5%, left to scavenge and scrape by as the military maintains what control they can. Until its unimaginably bleak conclusion, Threads never lets up. There is no comic relief, no levity, only suffering, proving that to truly disturb you don’t need gore or sex, but a horribly real possibly of the future.
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