"Threads" was a one off show commissioned for the BBC. It was first shown in late 1984, on BBC 2, then later on BBC 1 in mid 1985 to mark the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The shows plot depicts the long term effects of a nuclear war in Britain, focusing on what would happen on a smaller scale to places outside London. When Britain becomes involved in nuclear war, the government would go underground. When all communication is lost, smaller authorities outside London would have full control of the towns or cities in which they reside until communication is re-established with the main government. The show focuses on what would happen in the city of Sheffield.
"Threads" is a filmed in a documentary style, with brief narration at the beginning, and facts about the effects on Britain. The main plot at the beginning is about two lovers, Jimmy and Ruth, and their families. They go on about their lives, ignorant to the fact that an international crisis is occurring overseas in the Middle East, involving the Soviet Union, America, and Great Britain. The show focuses more on the families in the beginning, and the global conflict plays out in the background. People seem too wrapped up in their own lives to see the bigger picture and the threat that is literally on their doorstep. That is, until shit gets real and war is imminent.
The second plot is about key members of the Sheffield City Council making preparations in a bomb shelter underneath the Town Hall for emergency operations.
A good 40 minutes is used to establish these people in each storyline. You become involved in the lives of these families which makes it that bit more powerful when the bombs hit. Some of the members of each family survive the initial blast, but over time due to radiation or injuries these numbers fall. In the bomb shelter, the makeshift local government are trying, and failing desperately, to direct services above ground. The Town Hall has collapsed above them, making it difficult to get them out. Meanwhile, toxic fumes are seeping into their air conditioning.
The show doesn't just show you what happens in the coming weeks, but what happens over the course of 13 years! Those who don't die from the initial blasts have radiation sickness and very likely a slow death to look forward to. If you're lucky enough to survive that, you have long term exposure to radiation and the harsh weather conditions to survive. You have little to no chance to grow crops due to irradiated soil, and the prospects of having a child that isn't stillborn or deformed is slim. After 13 years, the population is back to mediaeval levels. Money means nothing any more, food is the only thing worth trading. The only way to get food is to help the new government rebuild the country. Looters are pretty much shot on sight.
Out of all the films I've written about on the blog, this is by far the most bleak, pessimistic, and cold thing I've seen. It's totally unflinching in it's portrayal of suffering in the face of nuclear war. What's most jarring is that it spends the first 40 minutes almost intimately portraying the two families and making you identify with them. Also the amateurishness of the acting amplifies how harsh the second half of the film is. There is literally no respite from all the horrors it shows you.
The shows facts are mostly taken from a home defence exercise to evaluate the effects of an attack from Soviet Russia. This exercise was called "Operation Square Leg". Scientific advisors also helped overlook the production of the show.
I'm not sure how much of the show is sensationalised or exaggerated for shock value, and I'm sure the tactics used for nuclear war are a lot different now due to advances in technology, but I feel some of the themes are still quite relevant today. This show has not lost it's power to shock and I'm also quite frankly amazed that the BBC had the balls to show this. I do highly recommend it, though be warned, it's not something to watch if you're feeling depressed!
Thank you for taking the time to read. Please feel free to post your good and bad comments below, and if you have seen this, let me know your thoughts. To those that haven't seen it, I've posted the entire show below!