Starring: Karen Meagher, Reece Dinsdale, David Brierly
Director: Mick Jackson
Running Time: 112 mins
Threads is a British film about the weeks leading up to the nuclear bombing of the city of Sheffield, and the subsequent collapse of civilisation as people are forced to survive in a devastating nuclear winter.
This is not a nice film. As brutally realistic a depiction of nuclear war and its effects as can be, Threads is a relentlessly harrowing and devastating watch, with the added horror of centring on how normal people, not countries and governments, have their lives destroyed. It’s a heavy watch, and not one I would recommend lightly, but it serves a very important purpose, acting as perhaps the ultimate warning of what could happen.
Before we get into the film’s depiction of nuclear war, however, I think it’s important to first look at the style of the film. Above all, Mick Jackson directs it in a pseudo-documentary style, bringing the realism even closer to home. What’s more is that the film looks a whole lot like a Public Information Film, thanks to its fairly low budget and relatively low quality of actors, but that’s yet another ingenious decision that makes the film’s story feel all the more unnerving, as if it is a real warning directed right at you.
The film does a very impressive job at building an alternate reality in which the Cold War really did turn hot, and nukes started dropping across the world. However, the best part of it all is the fact that the story focuses on the events unfolding from the perspective of normal people, in this case residents of the fairly unassuming city of Sheffield.
While many historical dramas centring on the Cold War like to look at how governments dealt with brinkmanship, watching a rapidly escalating situation from a totally helpless position makes the prospect even scarier. You can immediately place yourself in the shoes of any of the main characters here, and the detached way in which they are affected by the events unfolding thousands of miles away from them is all the more devastating to watch unfold.
But in the end, the film’s most striking element is how it shows the aftermath of a nuclear attack. While the snowball effect in the build-up to the attack is incredibly unsettling, and the depiction of the bombing itself is horrifying, the brutal way in which the film details the total collapse of modern civilisation and the enormous number of fatalities in all manner of horrible ways is truly something else.
While there are many films that detail harrowing events from history, none works on the same level as Threads. That’s in part due to the fact that it’s detailing a history that didn’t yet happen, allowing it to be a lot more frank in its delivery of what could be very sensitive images and events had things gone the way shown in the film. However, it’s also because Threads is there to serve as a warning, the ultimate deterrent to nuclear war.
It’s not a nice film by any means, and it’s not meant to be enjoyable or dramatically riveting. It’s meant to scare you, unsettle you and show you how serious the consequences of nuclear war could be, to the point where the complex modern society that humans have built over thousands of years could be wiped out in a matter of hours, leaving people completely desperate and struggling to survive.
When watching Threads, it’s a little hard to really grasp the intensity of what you’re witnessing at times. There are some truly terrifying scenes, ranging from incredibly frank depictions of how people would die in a nuclear attack, to the sheer depression and desperation of the torrid lives people are forced to live in the weeks, months and years after the event.
However, even when the film finishes, images of people’s faces covered in sadness, desperation and sheer bewilderment are the most powerful, sticking with you long after and serving as an incredible reminder of the potential horror and impact of such a devastating war.
Overall, Threads is not a nice film. It’s not a normal war film, and it’s not a normal drama. There’s not much in the way of dramatic character or story development, but rather pure and brutally frank depictions of the horrors that could unfold in the worst possible scenario for the world, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.