For almost half a century, a single major fear pervaded above all others among citizens of the Western World: global thermonuclear war. Thus, film and literature kept pace with these fears, speculating on the scenarios and consequences of what could happen to the Earth should a nuclear war ever take place. Most were post-apocalyptic storylines involving how societies might re-configure after the world had ‘cooled’ decades or centuries into the future. Others would clinically analyze cold war brinkmanship, usually climaxing with a mushroom cloud and everyone’s fate open ended. Only a small handful painted the horrific picture of what happens when the bombs actually drop: the enormous death toll and devastation; the lingering effects of fallout and social disintegration. The most realistic and horrific of these is the BBC produced Threads.
Threads so graphically and meticulously lays out the brutal reality of a limited nuclear war, all other contenders from the classic On the Beach to the notorious The Day After seem quite tame in comparison. Set in the British industrial town of Sheffield in 1984 (present day when the movie was made), it dryly depicts two middle class families coming together when the son and daughter of each decide to get married because of an unplanned pregnancy. As this mundane story plays out, news reports in the background describe an escalating conflict between the United States and Russia in the Middle East. Methodically, through narration, typed captions and televised PSA’s, we watch how this crisis grows over a few months time into a global nuclear exchange. It then grimly and relentlessly depicts the days, months and even years that follow with cold, pessimistic and very well researched precision.
As a horror movie, Threads is truly terrifying, the ultimate in realistic nightmares. It is also a chilling, sobering reminder of what is still possible even today.