This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Threads: Review

Mushroom clouds...
I've just spent the evening watching, online, the unedited version of a remarkable film - the British TV movie, "Threads", made way back in 1984, a year after the similarly themed American film "The Day After". That film I’d watched back in school, in that same year, and come away unimpressed. It was so obviously sanitised.
Now, I’ll admit Threads is sanitised, too, but it’s at least a far more honest and upfront account of what might happen in the aftermath of a nuclear exchange. It’s set in the British industrial town of Sheffield, near a major NATO base, and in the background of a major standoff between the US and the USSR (remember this was made in 1984) over…Iran. The movie opens with the lives of average working class people and their average lives, with the usual problems of a young man, Jimmy Kemp, whose girlfriend Ruth is pregnant and whom he wants to marry, while his nosy younger siblings and parents complete the family picture.
The film switches from a narrative style to a documentary with voice overs and onscreen titles, which is why I can’t really classify it as anything than “other”. As the Kemp family plays out its dreary life amid the airless drudgery of an industrial town, there are reports of nuclear exchanges over Iran, shrill threats from both Moscow and Washington, and Britain loyally following in its lord and master’s footsteps to certain ruin. Peace activists who argue for sanity are heckled and arrested, people are warned not to attempt to flee to safety because their homes would be appropriated to shelter homeless people and local authorities in places other than their own areas would refuse to feed or shelter them.
Finally a full scale nuclear exchange takes place, with some 3000 megatons of nuclear warheads used, Sheffield is hit by a single warhead. Most of the city is blasted flat, with fires raging afterwards and the authorities in charge of emergency services themselves being destroyed in their protected bunker. As the survivors emerge into their new, ruined world, it is to find that they have neither food, shelter, nor assistance. What is left of the government does not even manage to distribute what food there is, preferring to open fire on desperate, starving people. The pregnant Ruth manages to flee, along with refugees who drop dead from radiation sickness all around her, finally being reduced to eating raw meat from a sheep that may have died from radiation itself, convincing herself it probably was protected by its coat from the worst radiation.
As smoke clouds fill the sky, agriculture collapses, fuel stocks disappear, millions of corpses lie undisposed of because it is impossible to find the fuel to cremate them or even run bulldozers to bury them, while digging so many graves by hand is impossible. As the population of Britain plunges towards medieval levels, the smoke clouds clear to reveal a sun whose rays are much richer in ultraviolet radiation now that the ozone layer has been so badly damaged by the nuclear blasts. So the survivors are now exposed to increased cataracts and skin cancers, not to speak of birth mutations, along with the other hazards of living in a post holocaust environment. Ruth dies of exhaustion and overwork years after the nuclear war, leaving behind a daughter who grows up in a world where civilisation has broken down utterly, and who, raped, gives birth to her own child at the very end of the film.
The film itself is well crafted. It was made by the BBC, which was forced to keep it off the air for years after showing it just once, because it was deemed “alarmist” (I guess people might feel the price of being America’s stooge wasn’t worth the peril). Once the nuclear blasts take place, the scene shrinks to Sheffield itself. There is no more discussion of what happened to the US or USSR or to Iran, the bone of contention. Intelligent, that.
The scenes depicting the nuclear blasts themselves are, I must say, not as well made as those depicted in the otherwise infinitely inferior The Day After (except for the scene where urine runs down a woman’s leg as she sees the nuclear flash, which I admit I enjoyed). But the aftermath, with its scenes of shattered wreckage, rats feeding on charred corpses, and the like, are far better than in the American film. Also, the heavy smoke clouds, the hopelessness of the survivors, the utter lack of Hollywood heroism as they die quietly one by one, all this is affecting in a way no “mainstream” movie would dare to emulate. (I just wish they’d depicted cannibalism, though. I’d think it would be inevitable under such conditions.)
It has its drawbacks. It’s typically 1980s in milieu, with nary a non-white face anywhere on screen, yobs with long hair, roll-necked pullovers and glottal incomprehensible accents, but there’s nowt abaht that we kin do anythin’ abaht now, innit?
And there are a few glitches. Nuclear blasts would have destroyed the city so thoroughly that the scenes of refugees fleeing for the countryside are unlikely to ever actually take place. In 2002 I had written an article for Eastern Panorama magazine on nuclear warfare where I’d pointed out that all the scenarios for a post exchange world assume that people live to suffer the consequences. But in cities most people would not; and those who were in this film watching the nuclear flash would be cremated by the flash itself, or burnt in the fires that will follow. Also, the depiction of the government’s (represented by impossibly clean shaven soldiers and policemen) incompetence after the attack presupposes that there is a government left to be incompetent. Something that would, I submit, be unlikely, at the very least.
There are a few glitches that are at least forgivable. Ruth’s daughter, born after the holocaust, has clearly visible silver amalgam fillings in her upper molars, for example.
Now that nuclear weapons are again being thought of as usable, in fact we may see them being used within a matter of weeks, over that same nation of Iran, it’s time that we revisit films like these. Propaganda claiming that nuclear weapons are somehow sanitised and harmless except to the actual, immediate, targets is unlikely to stand up to the visual shock these images provide. I know, of course, that this movie will never be shown in a world where Picasso’s Guernica was covered up so Colin Powell could spout his lies to the UN in peace. Or if it was shown, it might be used as counter-propaganda (“Do it to them before they do it to us”).
The thing is, once you let the genie out of the bottle it doesn’t necessarily go quietly back. And like Frankenstein’s monster, it can turn on its creator.
The movie can be seen here

Not recommended if you're squeamish, though.

Cast:Karen Meagher ... Ruth Beckett
Reece Dinsdale ... Jimmy Kemp
David Brierly ... Mr. Kemp
Rita May ... Mrs. Kemp
Nicholas Lane ... Michael Kemp
Jane Hazlegrove ... Alison Kemp
Henry Moxon ... Mr. Beckett
June Broughton ... Mrs. Beckett
Sylvia Stoker ... Granny Beckett
Harry Beety ... Clive Sutton
Ruth Holden ... Marjorie Sutton
Ashley Barker ... Bob
Michael O'Hagan ... Chief Supt. Hirst
Phil Rose ... Medical Officer
Steve Halliwell ... Information Officer 

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