More noise than signal


Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

I suppose the first thing to point out with Threads is that it’s not a documentary. We have somehow so far avoided the sort of catastrophic nuclear exchange that causes the end of the world as we know it. I say this not to point out the bleedin’ obvious, but more as an act of self assurance. It’s the film introduction equivalent of sitting in the corner, hugging my knees, rocking back and forward saying it’s all just a nightmare. This is necessary because Threads in very large part remains entirely plausible, and entirely terrifying.

We have to cast our minds back to the dark days of 1984, which admittedly wasn’t exactly peak-Cold War tensions, but certainly much more of a concern than now. We’re introduced to Sheffield, at that point a major industrial centre of England, so thanks to Maggie Thatcher for keeping us all safe by destroying industry. Never forget. Anyway, there’s also an Air Force Base, so it’s card’s still marked.

We’re introduced to Karen Meagher’s Ruth and Reece Dinsdale’s Jimmy, young lovers contemplating marriage after an unplanned pregnancy worrying about their parents reactions and the slight working and middle class divides between them. While this kitchen sink drama plays out over a few week, we also hear diegetic news reports of rising tensions in Iran – a failed coups, with Soviet Russia – remember them – and the US sticking their oars and armed forces in some boring old conventional weapon confrontations, before some limited “tactical” nuclear exchanges. Eeep.

While Ruth and Jimmy are just trying to navigate their own lives, the geopolitics of it does impact them. Various anti-Soviet and anti-war protests break out, some lead by trade unions – remember them – before being put down under a government emergency powers act. The government is also polishing up their contingency plans for what happens in the event of a proper nuclear war, with an expected breakdown of communications meaning an awful lot of power landing on the local council, which are a group of people that can barely organise garbage collection at the best of times, so I think we all see how this is going.

Before long the button is pushed, and it’s holocaustagogo. Focus remains split between Ruth and her family’s efforts to survive the initial chaos, during which we’ll also see how well the government’s plans hold up. Spoliers – poorly, before taking a longer and admittedly much more speculative view of how society, if you can call it that, will rebuild the ruins of the old world.

This has glossed over an awful lot of exceedingly miserable statistics and details, for both your and my sanity, dear listener. Like, an hour of chaos, depression, misery and horror, told in a way that makes if reel like a documentary of something on the verge of happening. Here is a film that ends on a rape victim giving birth to a still born baby, and can’t claim that it’s the definitive low point of the film. Pretty low, for sure, but there’s stiff competition in here for “most miserable vignette”.

You’ll have to watch it for yourself if you want the full effect, and latter half plot details, and I’m not recommending that you do. Not because it is not an extraordinary film, it one hundred percent is, but because I don’t want the psychic toll this takes on the viewer on my karma bill.

Threads is, I think, a unique experience, and certainly one that shows off the effectiveness of the medium when done right. It boggles my mind that this was a BBC film – state broadcasters normally look to keep populations calm and reassure them that the government has them covered, and this rather explicitly does the opposite of that. Thankfully I did not see this on initial viewing, as it would have literally murdered the five year old me, and it still does a pretty solid number on a nearly 40 year old me. I’ve never really had to live with the threat of this sort of thing living on the edge of your awareness. It seems like it would suck. About a million times more harrowing than you’d expect from a director that went on to do Volcano. Dreadful, in the more traditional sense of that word.