Take your CGI, take your studio effects, your Dolby, your digital remastering, take it all and bow down to how it is done.
A little known director from a tiny project between Britain and Australia, put it on a Sunday night on BBC in 1984 when people watched what was on the TV on one of three channels, or they watched nothing, and people didn't like to watch nothing. So people watched, and overnight the world changed.
Starring future household name Reece Dinsdale as Jimmy, a working-class young Sheffield man with a joiners job, a recently made redundant father, a penchant for birds, and also, a penchant for the birds. Jimmy's girlfriend, Ruth, tells him she is pregnant, so he does the right thing. In a time where, as tough as it may seem for today, it was still a real stigma to have a child out of wedlock, especially in cramped northern communities.
So before we go any further, and before the lack of a screenplay becomes evident, tribute must be paid to the dialect. Not forced, it is how it would be, the family finding out about Jimmy's predicament, the strained conversation where, in trying to hide the scandal from a child in the family, they inadvertently tell it to another, it is a drama of note in itself and didn't scrimp on the lead-up. It shows the impending conflict of nuclear proportions as background noise, soon to be foreground din, cleverly rising as people develop theories, panic levels rise, behaviour changes, prices increase, and tensions do too.
Exposition is given to us through the voice of Paul Vaughn, the familiar narrator of shows such as Horizon as well as a regular radio presence and graphics explaining the development between the USA, Iran, Russia, and the UK. The director and the producer came to loggerheads over the narrative. the politically active Barry Hines thought having a stuffed-shirt talking in received pronounciation over the movie made it into the the very sort of Government Information Film they were damning. Personally I believe it was the right decision. It must be noted though that many reports state Hines disliked the upper middle-class Jackson for no other reason than his roots, so antagonism was inevitable
It is dated, very of its time. Both in a non-perjorative way. That is what is so great. It feels so ordinary. The cars, the media graphics, seeing the Daily Mail and it's "You" magazine (anyone remember the adverts?), and people going to the bar and re-using the same glasses. It makes it into "If it could happen here...." situation.
"[t]he dangers of complacency are much greater than any risks of knowledge."
Neil Kinnock, after watching Threads, in a letter to the director
The voice-over tells us, how in times of impending war, national ruling power will be transferred to local government and a senior local civil-servant will be given autonomy. We meet the man in question, he has no-nonsense and asks what needs to be asked, he summons those he needs to continue running things after the war begins and has the power to stop them in whatever task they currently hold. Manpower, provisions, security, amenities and various other civil factors must be co-ordinated and it is chilling to see this is covered. Also to learn how most people who are designated for these roles will not be told they are chosen until it is almost time to go underground.
There is panic buying, protests, arrests of subversives, and fuel shortages as the "its just a precautionary measure" phrase is said with increased frequency but reduced conviction.
Jimmy and Ruth have bought a flat, they are moving in, and Ruth is terrified for her baby. In a telling shot, we see the two preparing the new home at a time of what should be joy, instead, it is one of fear and we see only the light in their room as other flats are deserted as people leave for the country, not realising they will not make it as main routes are for emergency vehicles only.
As Jimmy and his mate turn away scroungers trying to buy wood from his joiners yard to build shelter, the four-minute warning goes and the panic starts. The firsts pulse hits and all power is lost. Shortly after, the bomb is dropped, there is pandemonium, people panic, run, windows shattered, houses collapse from cars crashing into them from the driver's new blindness post-flash. The fear and despair, pain, and death are palpable, we learn that between 8 and 14 million have been instantly killed. It is terror-inducing. Then it gets bad.
The nuclear exchanges escalate. We learn that the first explosion and its gigantic mushroom cloud is a pop-gun compared to the blinding light. This is where the world of "Duck and Cover" became a total joke. Neil painting himself white to divert the blast was no more foolish than hiding under a table.
Jimmy's mother is burnt to near death. His younger brother is dead, they find his foot protruding from the rubble. His sister's fate is left open, she had gone to the shop.
Ten feet high piles of rubble everywhere. You would not be able to recognise anywhere, meaning direction and the few survivors could not possibly know where they were going. Local geographics were irrelevant, roads were melted, buildings are gone, the sun blocked. You may have a watch but, as we learn, you will not know if it is AM or PM.
A mother holds a crisp-burnt baby to her bosom, water drips, and Ruth's dad cups his hand, it drips over a dead cadaver's face. A clawing hand reaches from the rubble, then it stops.
Meanwhile in the underground emergency government underneath Sheffield Town Hall (it is explained why Sheffield was chosen) it shows how your office is not so bad. The tension, stink, starving, and lack of able communications, plus the dead body from a falling beam, make for a rather toxic working environment. So Derek and Prewer squabbling over the air-con is somewhat trivial after all. There is hardly any food, rioters are attacking stores, so temporary detention centres are brimming. The call is for reconstruction. the blood-curdling truth is that food is wasted if the person cannot work and if someone dies, more food for you.
PTSD is as prevalent as fallout. People are not talking to each other. Ruth has to cope, no food, no water, no medicines, and no help. She is heavily pregnant. She gets to the hospital. Here is one of the most disturbing things you will ever see. No power, no water, no medicines, and plenty of patients. Infected and gloopy blood splattered on the floor, screams of children being cut open with no anesthetic. Truly a horror film could never get close to this. Just watch for the stairs. Gruesome.
We are shown how things progress, details of the scientific ramifications are given, as well as explanations of agricultural ramifications, as in a world with no power, back to working the land by hand to be fed is what occurs. Harvest is life and death once more.
So is it relevant? Let us look at who runs the world. I would say so. Take a look at where you live. Sheffield was chosen because it was the home of steel and chemicals. Not any more. However, I live in Cheltenham. Right next to GCHQ, the home of information and intelligence. Basically in a nuclear war, I am fucked. We are target number 2 or 1, depending on who you ask.
"...in this case, that threat of nuclear destruction which cannot help but feel 'real'--so that we are unable to relax into Threads as 'just' a movie."
Professor Andrew Bartlett of UCLA
For me, it teaches you it is better to be in the initial blast and die instantly than to spend decades starving while you slowly die of lymphoma.
I do not think that there are many things that everyone should have to watch, I do think that this is one though. The reaction was instant, there were debates, letters, changes, playground games, charity movements, and press direction. All took a change from this tiny little production that I consider to be bigger than the Marvel Cineverse.
Never during this will you say, "that effect is rubbish" or lament at anything being unconvincing. You will watch it and find yourself unable to move. Then a couple of days later you will think about it again, and find yourself dwelling on it in total silence until something diverts you. It is powerful beyond description.
It is also beyond reproach, it provides a service to society, and it was done in such utter class that to not see it means you are missing out on something pivotal.
Plus it has got John from I.D in it