The BBC’s hard-hitting and unflinching nuclear fallout drama Threads was recently remastered and re-released on DVD. It has now been made available as a two-disc Blu-ray feature for the first time.
Originally broadcast in 1984, Threads traumatised viewers in the UK and abroad, and proved highly controversial because of its impact. It dramatises the events of a nuclear attack that takes place one ordinary day in Sheffield, and the aftermath for the immediate and short-term survivors. Utterly unflinching in its portrayal of wholesale devastation, death, radiation poisoning and the bleakness of life for those who live long enough to endure a nuclear winter, Threads is not for the faint-hearted.
The deliberate absence of any sentimentality is replaced by a brilliantly structured and compelling narrative (written by A Kestrel for a Knave-author Barry Hines). The first of the three hours centres around a teenage couple, Ruth and Jimmy (outstanding performances from Karen Meagher and Reece Dinsdale), who discover that they are expecting a baby. Adjusting to this shock, they prepare for their new arrival with the help of their respective parents. Despite the background news coverage of escalating tensions with an unspecified foreign power, the viewer is lulled into thinking that nothing catastrophic can happen to derail the domesticity and turn the drama on its head. Once audience expectations have been subverted once, Threads is not finished, but goes off in many unanticipated directions. Made over thirty years ago, Threads is mercifully unencumbered by the contemporary obsession with dancing to the tune of political correctness which blights modern dramas with irrelevant social issues. Instead, it remains laser-focussed on the subject matter.
As the devastating drama unfolds, a sense of realism is maintained throughout. Barry Hines extensively researched the effects of a nuclear attack on a major city, and the production lists many distinguished scientists, including Professor Carl Sagan, who advised the filmmakers on maintaining accuracy within the storytelling. Documentary-style captions and linking narration also trick the viewer into believing that what they are seeing is not a drama, or is at the very least a reconstruction of real events.
There are some brilliant directorial touches by Mick Jackson (who went on to make The Bodyguard) such as depicting the explosion in pockets of disorientating silence, and picking out graphic details of human and animal remains burning amongst the rubble. An entire row of houses earmarked for demolition were cleverly used by the production team to add a sense of cinematic scale and big budget to this incredible drama. None of the cast was especially well-known at the time, though Reece Dinsdale later became a familiar face on television. Instead, seasoned character actors such as Rita May, David Brierly and Harry Beety abound. Beety is noteworthy as a small-scale civil servant trapped underground who tries to maintain some sense of order following the attack. In the 1980s, actors with ordinary teeth could still get work.
The brilliance of Threads is unquestionable, and if you’ve never seen it, you really must. The restoration work that led to the release of the DVD in April 2018 provided the best viewing experience of the film to date. This Blu-ray release gives fans another option: however, the step up in quality isn’t a marked one. Perhaps there is too little information in 16mm film stock for it to benefit from ultra high-definition, but the picture quality acquires the noise of some grain that it doesn’t have on DVD, even if the resolution is overall a touch sharper. The Blu-ray release retains all of the extras of the DVD release (audio commentaries with lead actress Karen Meagher and director Mick Jackson; PDF of Radio Times articles and letters; and the documentaries ‘Shooting the Annihilation’, ‘Auditioning for the Apocalypse’, ‘Destruction Designer’ and ‘Stephen Thrower on Threads’), plus an option to watch Threads in widescreen in a shorter cut of the film approved by the director.
If you haven’t already gone for Threads on DVD, the Blu-ray release is a must-have, but if you bought the recent DVD, you may wish to stick rather than twist. But all fans of cult British television must have at least one version of the remastered Threads in their collection.
Cast: Karen Meagher, Reece Dinsdale, David Brierly, Rita May Director: Mick Jackson Writer: Barry Hines Released By: Simply Media Certificate: 15 Running Time: 175 mins Release Date: 17th December 2018