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 on their brain. The feature-length BBC drama they viewed 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 ensuring Threads gained a place in the TV hall of fame. Here, Nuclear conflict found a new voice, one embedded in reality. For Threads was no American themed disaster drama, it was a visceral dissection of the horror of the bomb.
Now, over 35 years later, Threads continues to carry the same power, its discussions and reflections just as important today as they were in 1984—conversations of nightmares and artistic bravery surrounding its place in the history of British drama. 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 just as prominent now as they were 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.
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. A drama 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 making 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 laser precision of a documentary. The result a harrowing but real exploration of the days leading to war and the devastation left behind. The film equally split between the normality of everyday life and the abject horror of fallout. Here, director Mick Jackson focuses his camera on the individual as their world is torn apart. 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”
The mix of this documentary-like precision and character-led drama was a film that burnt into the viewer’s memory. The realities of daily life for two Northern families suddenly and sharply engulfed by horror. A distant conflict in the Middle East that adorns each newspaper as the film begins, suddenly jumping from a remote concern to devastation. The reality of global conflict starkly written into the sudden, inescapable political decisions that impact humanity. Here, Threads reflects the true horror of potential global conflict and the leaders who sit with their fingers on the button. Our global sense of peace and security always at risk from a random choice based on notions of power, defeat and glory. These very choices ultimately futile as Threads highlights the real outcomes of nuclear conflict.
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 impossible. The structures of society crumbling away as bodies lay burnt on the ground. The reality of the bomb outed as a world-ending vanity project built on dangerous notions of nationalism and power. The sheer force of our natural world and science subverted into a weapon of no return.
Threads reminds us that not all horror is fiction—with humankind just as terrifying as the shadows we create in literature and film. And while it may not have led to significant disarmament of nuclear weapons, its sheer power and weight is undeniable. Threads should be watched and discussed in every classroom. While also repeated on mainstream television regularly, ensuring it never falls into TV history. And in a modern world where nationalism, power and conflict continue to threaten peace and security, Mick Jackson’s 1984 film has never been more essential.
Threads demonstrates the sheer power of television in creating public discussion. Its message from 1984 timeless, urgent and evocative. The threads that hold our communities, countries and world together reliant on the strengths of each strand. The horror of the bomb a genuine and ongoing threat to our complex web of humanity. A danger that ultimately touches your life no matter where you may live on our unique and delicate blue planet.
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