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September 6, 2004 3:16 AM   Subscribe

Twenty Years Ago, The BBC produced a topical drama called Threads - little did they know the furore it would go on to create. [more inside]
posted by metaxa (32 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Written by Barry Hines, more famed for his childrens books (such as 'A Kestrel for a Knave', which led to the classic 1969 movie Kes) it painted a very, very grim future ahead following a shortlived nuclear war between the US and Russia.

After it's single showing on BBC2 in 1984, and following the public outcry against it's unrelentingly pessimistic portrayal of life in the UK after nuclear war, the BBC shelved Threads, where it stayed for nearly 20 years. In 1999 it was given a limited DVD release and was immediately deleted - as such, DVD copies of Threads sell for as much as £95.

On Saturday, the UKTV Documentary channel (one of the BBC's 'commercial' channels - owned by BBC subsidaries, but not paid for by the licence fee) screened Threads for only the 4th time in history. (Threads had been silently wheeled out by the BBC to commemorate Hiroshima twice before). I watched. What I saw will live with me forever.

We all know that nuclear weapons are 'bad'. We all know that nuclear war will be the end of us. The Day After, an American movie which came a year before tried to grasp the subject of nuclear war, but it didn't quite pull it off with it's Hollywood sheen. However, nothing even comes close to hitting it home as Threads does. I'm sure it's a cliche, but messers Bush and Blair need to see this film. I know the vast majority of MeFi readers will never see this movie (unless the BBC decide to release it on DVD again), but if you ever get the chance, and you're willing to lose a night's sleep over it (seriously!) - watch it.
posted by metaxa at 3:17 AM on September 6, 2004


It's going to be on BBC FOUR soon. If someone cares to remind me I'll gladly capture it.
posted by ed\26h at 3:50 AM on September 6, 2004


Oooo, sounds like a collaboration of:

- Planet of the Apes
- Last Days of Planet Earth
- Mad Max
- The Quiet Earth
- The Omega Man
- Zardoz (ha ha)
- A Clockwork Orange
- World War III

(There's more I'd add in, like 28 days later, but I'd rather stick to movies older than this one)

...and just about any other apocalyptic movie I can remember. Although, unlike those movies, this movie appears to take itself more seriously. Woohoo!

I'll add it to my stack of "to watch" if I ever find it.
posted by shepd at 3:52 AM on September 6, 2004


Also check out When The Wind Blows for more (animated) British post nuclear attack angst. It's a heartbreaking film with two pensioners surviving a nuclear attack thinking that WW3 should just be like WW2.
posted by PenDevil at 3:53 AM on September 6, 2004


I don't suppose this is the kind of thing the BBC might make available as part of their online archives? I'd love to see this, and while I live in the UK, I don't think I'll be able to catch the late-night broadcast.

Suddenly I wish I still had a VCR ...
posted by bwerdmuller at 3:54 AM on September 6, 2004


No need for capturing it (or staying up late for that matter), It's already on the peer to peer filesharing networks. I won't post a link here, but if someone has trouble finding it mail me.
posted by fvw at 4:14 AM on September 6, 2004


I did see "Threads" in the early 80s, not long after "The Day After" aired. Can't recall if it was picked up by the PBS station in Chicago, where I was going to college, or if it was on cable (I'm leaning toward thinking it was WTTW).

It was less melodramatic than "TDA" by a long shot, and even though it seemed like more people survived intact in "Threads", their vision of the post-apocalyptic world was indeed sort of "Mad Max" like.

I vividly recall how hopeless I felt after watching "TDA", and that I almost didn't watch "Threads" because I didn't know if I could take a second wave of despair.
posted by briank at 4:49 AM on September 6, 2004


There's another film, an american television production called "Testament" with Jane Alexander, Kevin Costner (!), and others that was a PBS American Playhouse production. It was released in theaters instead of being shown on television. Much, much better than Threads or The Day After.

No shots of bombs falling or buildings being destroyed. Just good writing and acting showing how the aftermath affects a small rural town.
posted by paddbear at 5:19 AM on September 6, 2004


We did get to see it in Australia.I suspect it has never been repeated.Oh it was grim alright.Certainly would have scared the shit out of a 12 year old.
posted by johnny7 at 5:29 AM on September 6, 2004


unlike those movies, this movie appears to take itself more seriously.

Threads is unlike pretty much any other movie you will see. Its impact was significant in terms of galvinising anti-nuclear and anti-US-Bases street politics in the UK. I also believe it takes place in Sheffield, where the Full Monty was also set. Sheffield gets a lot of crap!
posted by meehawl at 5:41 AM on September 6, 2004


Bollocks, in True Lies they let off nuclear weapons repeatedly. Everyone is fine.
I hear radiation sickness is just like the 'flu, only milder.
/sarcasm

Indeed, the implications of violence are seldom dwelt upon by the mainstream media, whatever intensity it takes. Violence always causes emotional damage, no matter what form it takes.

I can understand people who have witnessed violence not wanting to talk about it, but that usually leaves people who do not understand, and may have an unhealthy obsession with it to wax lyrical.

I suppose I watched American HistoryX last night, which may be an exception.

Raymond Briggs has also recently penned an autobiographical comic-novel about his parents, who do bare a resemblance to the couple in 'When the Wind Blows'.
posted by asok at 6:28 AM on September 6, 2004


Well, the world is full of nuclear weapons, and we seem to be stuck with the fershlugginer things. The U.K. is perfectly free to dispose of theirs tomorrow, given a government with the will and common sense to do so. What's to lose? The big fear, of course, is that the first nuclear power to forswear its weapons, could destabilize the current balance of power, and bring about a chain reaction of events that would end in the very holocaust it hoped to prevent. How interesting that none of the U.S. presidential candidates is being forced to address the nuclear issue. It's the abolition movement of our century. Let's get it started.
posted by Faze at 6:31 AM on September 6, 2004


I'm surprised no one has mentioned The War Game (I'm NOT talking about this film with Matthew BrodericK):

"The War Game is a 1965 television film on nuclear war. Directed and produced by Peter Watkins for the BBC, its clear and cool depiction of the impact of Soviet nuclear attack on Britain caused dismay within the BBC and in government. It was scheduled for August 6, 1966 (the anniversary of the Hiroshima attack) but was not transmitted until 1985, the corporation publicly stating because "the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting". But the film was actually stopped due to political pressure, supported by the tabloids who saw the film as "CND propaganda".

It's available on Region 2 DVD.
posted by grumblebee at 6:40 AM on September 6, 2004


Makes me think of Riddley Walker, a book about a post apocolyptic UK set some thousands of years after the war. Also written by a children's author: Russel Hoban (of Francis fame.)

It is a great read.... written in a unique language that Hoban created for the book. One of the best books I've ever read, really, and a somber reflection on where we could land our descendents if we go out of control.
posted by n9 at 7:00 AM on September 6, 2004


I'm surrounded -- literally -- by 200+ multiple-warhead missiles, and I feel perfectly safe. Heh.
posted by davidmsc at 7:24 AM on September 6, 2004


hey, briank~ i also caught threads on the local pbs station in chicago. 1985ish? i was mid-highschool at the time. they also aired monty python on sunday nights, i think.

my brother and i still cry "gee sum! gee sum!" at the thanksgiving table, mimicking the girl near the end of the film, begging for a scrap of food.
posted by steef at 7:26 AM on September 6, 2004


I remember it too--i think it was shown on PBS or cable, and it was devastating. I'll never forget that monster baby being born.

Testament is a good (sad) one too.
posted by amberglow at 7:33 AM on September 6, 2004


> It's the abolition movement of our century. Let's get it started.

It was the abolition movement of the last century too. The peace symbol, visible in headshops the world over, started out half a century ago in the UK as the logo of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Walter Miller's A Canticle for Liebowitz (which rather depressingly follows human progress from picking up the pieces after WW III to a point when we've rebuilt enough technology to start WW IV) was published in 1959.

May you make more progress in the next fifty years than in the last! Or at least make less negative progress (see India, Pakistan, China, Israel, South Africa, North Korea, Alabama, Pago Pago, etc. etc.) For encouragement, see John Gray, Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions, which argues that the idea of progress (anywhere except in science/technology) is the fundamental comforting falsehood of the modern era. (This last link from aldaily.)
posted by jfuller at 7:55 AM on September 6, 2004


"little did they know the furore it would go on to create. [more inside]"

"the public outcry against it's unrelentingly pessimistic portrayal of life in the UK after nuclear war"

You call that 'furore'? Sounds more like the public saying 'bollocks'.
posted by mischief at 8:38 AM on September 6, 2004


I was always struck by the good old shark surviving for ever in 'Canticle' by swimming deeper. This, sadly may prove to be optimistic.
posted by asok at 8:38 AM on September 6, 2004


grumblebee, I mentioned the Watkins film in yesterday's documentary thread on ask. Indeed, it's the shit.
posted by dobbs at 9:07 AM on September 6, 2004


When I moved to Sheffield last year, I tracked down threads and watched it.

There's a lovely shot of a mushroom cloud over my bus route home.

Scary yet strangely satifying
posted by devon at 9:16 AM on September 6, 2004


When I moved to Sheffield last year, I tracked down threads and watched it.

There's a lovely shot of a mushroom cloud over my bus route home.

Scary yet strangely satifying.

You've probably not been here long enough then to appreciate another satisfying scene, where the egg boxes get blown up. Thankfully they've now been demolished through non-apocalyptic means.

Threads is without a doubt the bleakest and most disturbing film I've ever seen. I have it on DVD, maybe I should cash in on its rarity as I can't imagine ever wanting to watch it again.

I notice that the BFI Video site also has the programme Ghostwatch, another BBC Drama that scared the shit out of the nation's youth (myself included).
posted by chill at 10:30 AM on September 6, 2004


Threads is without a doubt the bleakest and most disturbing film I've ever seen

Yes. Maybe you had to watch it at the time-- in the early 80s, when it all seemed far too plausible? I had a friend who said he could tell who had watched it, when it was shown here on CBC, by the way people were acting the next day. It was terrifying, full stop. Some of the comments here have caused me to have a bit of a generational moment-- I can't imagine finding it 'scary yet strangely satisfying'.

And The Day After was Hollywood in comparison; I watched it but don't remember much. And yet scenes from Threads come to mind rather more often than I wish. I still have it on videotape somewhere.
posted by jokeefe at 1:02 PM on September 6, 2004


"the public outcry against it's unrelentingly pessimistic portrayal of life in the UK after nuclear war"

You call that 'furore'? Sounds more like the public saying 'bollocks'.


As opposed to the shiny, happy version of life after a nuclear holocaust?

There's one moment in Threads, where after the attack, a man is sitting outside propped up against the pediment of a statue of some kind, obsessively playing some kind of handheld video game. The little beeps were quite horrifying in context... you seem him next dead, game still in hand.

If memory serves. *shudders*
posted by jokeefe at 1:12 PM on September 6, 2004


The reviewer you linked to gets 'strategic' and 'tactical' backwards.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:55 PM on September 6, 2004


I saw this in Canada in the mid 80s -- can't remember if it was PBS or CBC. I just remember that I was huddling with my friends in someone's apartment while we got warned that the following material could be disturbing.

The Day After left me cold, rolling my eyes. This.Just.Killed.Me. It was the moments where horror and pathos merged -- the granny whimpering and asking questions as she was led down to the inadequate bomb shelter, the same granny puking and dying in fear and confusion later on, the brother's limb and trainer sticking out of debris after the blast.

For pure confusion and human suffering, this showing gutted me. And I don't know whether I could view it again.
posted by maudlin at 2:49 PM on September 6, 2004


I was a child in eighties Britain and I truly believe it was the grimest decade of recent memory.

As an eight year old I was surrounded by the fear of nuclear war. Protect & Survive booklets were distributed and put the fear of god into us kids, even more so as we knew it's advice was futile. Seeing the Greenham Common women on television and admiring them for their stand, and then gradually realising they weren't making a difference. Us kids discused what we would do when the bomb dropped.

Me and some friends started building a bomb shelter near a railway - we only stopped when the older brother of one of my friends pointed out that we'd never be able to bury it deep enough. And anyway, since we were in London and a prime target we were waisting our time.

I look back on what these politicians did to me and my friends childhoods and feel angry. All this fear generated for what? And then I see my government releasing Preparing For Emergencies I wonder if children are now talking about what they'll do when the terrorists come for them. I can't forget how our fear was exploited so forgive me if I don't jump on the terrorism bandwagon.

Threads made a big impression on everyone who saw it - not big enough unfortunately.

PS: Don't forget The Atomic Cafe - a great documentary
posted by dodgygeezer at 3:17 PM on September 6, 2004


Certainly would have scared the shit out of a 12 year old.

Uh huh. We were made to watch this in third form. It's weird -- the Berlin Wall came down a few months later, but I always just assumed growing up that this would be the future.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:28 PM on September 6, 2004


It was the moments where horror and pathos merged -- the granny whimpering and asking questions as she was led down to the inadequate bomb shelter, the same granny puking and dying in fear and confusion later on, the brother's limb and trainer sticking out of debris after the blast.


"Come and help your grandmother!" while the pregnant daughter vomits in the basement shelter... then the look that she later gives her own daughter, born mentally disabled after the blast, as she is dying... and when she is dead, how the girl finds under her pillow an ancient hairbrush and a book, Birds of England or something, which is all that is left of her father and the world now gone... the damaged videotape which is being used to teach the children, more or less dressed in rags, how to make contractions ("The skeleton of a cat! A cat's skeleton!" says the chirpy presenter). Gah.

We really did grow up in an atmosphere of fear. I remember nightmares about nuclear war when I was 10 or 11; perhaps children today have nightmares about hijacked planes.

I'm feeling all emo now. Excuse me.
posted by jokeefe at 4:37 PM on September 6, 2004


It was terrifying, full stop. Some of the comments here have caused me to have a bit of a generational moment-- I can't imagine finding it 'scary yet strangely satisfying'.

Oh, I can. I've always been a bit of a cheerleader for human extinction, but never quite sure if I was joking or not. Still, yes, terrifying to a teenager, and pretty much anyone else, I guess.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:38 PM on September 6, 2004


Reading the comments, I'm seeing a real difference in attitude and outlook on this subject, depending on whether you grew up in the US or Canada or the UK.

I was in grammar school in New Jersey during the early/mid 60s, and I remember aid raid drills, Civil Defense supplies, etc. Even though there weren't enough shelters for all of us, (my 3rd-7th grade classes were supposed to survive the nuclear holocaust by kneeling facing a corridor wall and holding our Rosary beads behind our heads) I don't remember being all that scarred. My parents' attitude was "We're too close to New York City to worry about what happens after."
posted by paddbear at 5:06 PM on September 6, 2004


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