One of several television dramas on nuclear issues in the 1980s, Threads is
arguably the most visceral. Like Peter Watkins' The War Game (1966), finally broadcast the following year (BBC, tx. 31/7/1985), Threads dramatises a hypothetical nuclear
holocaust. It drew upon research and footage from director Mick Jackson's QED
documentary A Guide to Armageddon (BBC, tx. 26/7/1982), but is primarily a drama with
occasional captions or voice-over to explain research.
Its domestic scenes surrounding the relationship between Jimmy and Ruth, with
media reports of international tension largely ignored as background chatter,
question the lack of public education in nuclear issues, but also establish the
interpersonal and socio-economic 'threads' of society and create empathy with
characters in everyday situations, heightening the shock when nuclear war breaks
out and those 'threads' unravel.
Despite budgetary limitations, Threads convincingly depicts the horrors of
nuclear attack interpersing stock footage, photographs and model shots
with such memorable imagery as milk bottles melting in the heat and a urine
puddle forming at the feet of a terrified woman. Harrowing themes and imagery
continue in decaying post-apocalyptic Sheffield, as the pregnant Ruth faces a
bleak struggle for survival. The drama then follows Ruth's daughter a decade later
across a depopulated, sterile landscape. The loss of humanity and language is
exemplified by the struggle of adults and children to respond to a videotaped
children's television programme. When Ruth's daughter also falls pregnant, she
faces the consequences of a generation of radioactivity.
Threads documented Jackson and writer Barry Hines' research into the limits of Civil Defence, but Hines insisted that it sidestepped nuclear politics.
However, Threads has another political layer, given that characters' concerns
before the bomb, that Ruth's unborn child would suffer in a country facing
recession, are acted out in her daughter's fate. Anxiety over a future of
unemployment, which echoes
Hines' earlier Sheffield-set film, Looks and Smiles (d. Ken Loach, 1981), is starkly depicted in
post-apocalyptic wastelands which could be read as a metaphor for social
collapse in Thatcher's Britain. In place of the 'threads' described at the start
- a society in which "each person's needs are fed by the skills of many others"
- there is, to appropriate Thatcher's famous phrase, no such thing as society.
Threads attracted a large audience, and terrifyingly confirms one character's
argument that nobody can win a nuclear war because they would only conquer the corpse of a country.