Threads (1984)

THE HORROR OF THE BOMB

Threads is available on Blu-ray now.


On the 23rd of September 1984, seven million Britains watched a new drama on BBC Two entitled Threads. For many of those seven million viewers, the memory of that night has seared itself into their minds. The feature-length BBC drama they viewed was horrific, informative and terrifying as the reality of Nuclear War invaded the security of their living room. Many would later talk of nightmares, a lack of sleep and continued visions of what they witnessed. The sheer power of Barry Hines’ screenplay and Mick Jackson’s direction would ensure Threads gained a place in the TV hall of fame. Here, Nuclear conflict found a new voice, one embedded in reality. Threads was no American themed disaster drama; it was a visceral dissection of the horror of the bomb.

Over 35 years later, Threads continues to carry the same power. Here its discussions are just as important today as they were in 1984, with the vision created continuing to speak to new generations and define our thoughts on Nuclear warfare. However, despite Threads sheer power, nuclear weapons continue to form a part of our world, their place in modern warfare as prominent now as it was at the height of the cold war. In fact, just this past month, Russia tested a new doomsday weapon in the arctic circle. Meanwhile, Britain continues to plough billions into new nuclear capabilities, while Iran desperately seeks the power of western warfare.


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Therefore one could argue that while Threads terrified a whole generation and influenced public opinion, its lasting political influence was limited. However, this does not diminish the core message of a drama that still carries immense power, one that would likely never make it to TV screens today. In fact, the fact that Threads all but disappeared from TV following its release and a few dedicated repeats, only to resurface on Blu-ray, speaks directly to the power it held. The bravery of the BBC in screening it made up for their decision not to broadcast Peter Watkins nuclear documentary/drama The War Game in 1965, a film that would have a limited run in cinemas, winning the 1966 Oscar for Best Documentary.

Of course, Threads was not the first TV drama to explore the impact of nuclear war, with The Day After (1983) exploring similar themes in the USA. However, unlike Nicholas Meyer’s US drama, Threads would forgo the usual trappings of the TV film genre. Here, screenwriter Barry Hines (Kes) opted to focus on relatable characters, his script lacing everyday life in Sheffield with the precision of a documentary. The result is a harrowing but honest exploration of the days leading to war and the devastation left behind. Here the film is split between the normality of everyday life and the abject horror of fallout, with Director Mick Jackson focusing his camera on the individual as their world is torn apart. While never allowing the drama on-screen to spill over into a simplistic disaster movie template.


“We couldn’t hold back, because to do so would have been to not tell the truth. People had to see it” 

Mick Jackson


This mix of this documentary-like precision and character-led drama would produce a film that burnt itself into the viewer’s memory. Here the realities of daily life for two Northern families are suddenly and sharply engulfed by horror as a distant conflict in the Middle East turns from a minor concern to utter devastation. Here the reality of global conflict is starkly written into the sudden political decisions that impact humanity as Threads reflects the true horror of potential worldwide war and the leaders who sit with their fingers on the button.

Within the dramatic visualisation of fallout and the inescapable effects of nuclear war, Threads is groundbreaking, formidable and essential viewing. Here, Hines and Jackson demonstrate the no-win scenario of atomic conflict as humanity descends into the dark ages, the hunt for food, safety and clean drinking water, urgent yet also impossible. While at the same time, society’s structures crumble away alongside the burnt bodies that litter the ground.


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Threads reminds us that horror is not always rooted in fiction—with human creations and behaviours just as terrifying as the darkest shadows of literature and film. This is a drama that should be watched and discussed in every classroom, ensuring it never falls into history. After all, in a world where nationalism, power, and conflict threaten peace and security, Mick Jackson’s 1984 film has never been more essential. Threads demonstrates the sheer ability of television to generate public discussion; its message timeless, urgent and crucial. After all, the threads that hold our communities, countries and world together rely on the strengths of each strand.


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