Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Aint War Hell? - Threads (BBC 1984)

So, my next stop on my journey into nucelar holocaust drama is 1984s "Threads".
Like "The War Game" before it (which had yet to be shown on television, despite being made nearly 20 years previously) Threads is a Drama-Documentary, however unlike The War Game, Threads has a series of characters which it follows  over the course of about 25 years.

Threads was, and still is, considered somewhat harrowing viewing, as like its 60s predecessor, it pulls no punches in showing the horrible effects of a nuclear war on British society.
Set in "modern day", i.e, the early 1980s, Threads follows the fortunes of 3 groups of people, The Beckett Family, the Kemp family, and Sheffields emergency planning committee.

The narration of the story comes in the form of on s
creen "teletype" style captions, giving information relevant to on screen events and marking the passage of time.

The story begins with Ruth and Jimmy, a young couple who decide to marry after Ruth falls pregnant. While both families go about their daily lives, news reports heard playing in the background on radios and TV sets state that the USSR has invaded Iran, in response, NATO forces mobilise and the USSR is issued with a warning to withdraw otherwise the NATO countries would step in to protect western economic interests in the region (in other words..oil..oh look, how familiar is that eh?).
As relations between NATO and the USSR begin to fizzle away, the home office instructs Sheffield city council to form an emergency planning committee, to be based in the cellar of the city hall. Local councillors and civil servants are chosen to sit on the committee and begin setting up their "command centre" of sorts, not really expecting anything to happen.
As the preparations are made, numerous protests occur, firstly from anti nuclear campaigners, and then later by trade unionists, calling for a general strike in protest at the prospect of war.
The on screen captions state that the police are given emergency powers to arrest and detain both known and suspected subversives in order to maintain calm.
Despite all these preapartions however, on one May morning, whilst it is still night time in the US, "Attack warning red" is broadcast, meaning that world war 3 has begun.
(it is left deliberately ambiguous as to who fired first, although one news report states that US forces in west Germany detonated a tactical nuclear weapon over advancing Soviet troops in order to prevent the invasion of western Europe).

Within minutes, a soviet missile airburst over the north sea knocks out all electrical systems in northern England, and soon after, missiles begin impacting on major targets such as RAF Finningley, the Sheffield steelworks and mining areas.
As is the norm for nuclear warfare, anyone or anything caught in a primary blast zone is immediately vapourised, anything in the secondary blast zones either bursts into flames from the intense heat, or is pulverised by the blast wave.

Jimmys family, the Kemps, rush to complete their fallout shelter in their home, but are unable to fully complete it when the first missile strike hits. Jimmys younger brother is killed as he hides in Jimmys aviary, and Jimmys parents are injured as their house begins to collapse around them.
Jimmy himself, who is at work at the time of the attack, sets off running to try and get to Ruth, he is never seen again.
Ruths family, including her grandmother, who was sent home from the hospital she was in in order to make room for the expected wounded and injured, fare slightly better than the Kemps, due to them all taking shelter in their cellar, however, even with this makeshift shelter, radiation sickness begins to take its toll. An on screen caption points out that in its early stages, the symptoms of radiation sickness are indistinguishable from panic.

In total, 3000 megatons are exchanged worldwide, with approximately 150 megatons falling in the UK.
The emergency planning committee, or, at least those who bothered to turn up for work that morning, are trapped in their underground shelter, imprisoned by the rubble of the destroyed town hall. One of their number is killed by falling masonary, however their radio still functions, and after several attempts, they are able to make contact with remnants of the civil defence volunteers in nearby Stocksbridge, who tell them that due to raging fires and heavy radioactive fallout, it will be some time before a rescue attempt can be made.

A week passes, and many of those injured in the attack are already dead, and the streets are littered with rotting corpses and vermin. Without social infrastructure, the few functioning hospitals in the area quickly run out of essential medical supplies, even sundries such as wound dressings, disinfectants and even sharp knives are quickly used up, and doctors are forced to improvise, one scene shows nurses ripping up blankets to use in place of bandages, ans salt being mixed with hot water to be used in place of disinfectant.

Ruths grandma dies from the initial onset of radiation sickness, and, while her father drags the body upstairs, Ruth escapes and goes in search of Jimmy, however when she arrives at the Kemp family home, she finds Jimmys mothers rotting corpse abandoned in their half finished shelter. Jimmys father is later seen swapping a packet of cigarettes for a bottle of whisky with another survivor, but he soon succumbs to radiation and dies.

In the 2 weeks Ruth takes to return home from trying to find Jimmy, The Becketts house is invaded by looters and both her parents are killed.

Civil order breaks down rapidly, and in one of this films most iconic scenes, a traffic warden is shown wielding an assault rifle and being assigned to guard prisoners captured while looting or rioting, however before long, civil defence forces simply shoot looters on sight, as dead people don't need to be fed.

The emergency planning committee struggles to come up with any effective means of keeping up a steady supply of food and materials for the survivors above ground, and take to arguing amongst themselves ineffectively.

Within 2 months, radiation sickness, starvation, dehydration and infection have killed roughly 40 million people worldwide, with their corpses lying unburied due to lack of fuel to cremate them and a waste of energy feeding people to dig graves, this leads to outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and dysentery, which leads to even more deaths due to the lack of the most basic medicines or even clean drinking water.
At this time, rescuers finally manage to unearth the emergency planning committees bunker, only to find all its occupants have died from suffocation.

6 months down the line and winter sets in , which is not helped by the presence of a "nuclear winter" beforehand, which has pretty much killed off all the plants and crops, leading to less food available than ever.
By now, Ruth is heavilly pregnant and having ignored "official" advice, such as it is, to remain in her home town, she has walked 20 miles to Buxton, where the remaining local authority billets her to stay in a house occupied by an old man, who promptly throws her and other refugees out into the street once the police have left as he refuses to share his meagre food supplies with strangers.

Ruth carries on wandering and eventually gives birth to a baby girl in an abandoned barn (the end credits name this child as "Jane")
A year after the war, and a caption states that the population of the UK is now estimated to be less than 3 million people, and although in some areas manual coal mining has resumed, as well as the use of steam powered traction engines for farming, the lack of agrochemicals, pesticides and fertilizers means that crop harvests are poor.
Ruth is shown attempting to barter with a street peddler, however he isn't interested in any of the scrap items she is carrying, and instead in exchange for 3 dead rats, he demands sexual services.
Ruth is then shown running from civil defence personnel after stealing a bag of grain, which she then crushes on the floor of a house she is hiding in by using a rusted metal bucket in order to get something edible for her child.

10 years later, Ruth is shown working in the rudimentary fields tilling soil, however the caption states that due to damage to the ozone layer, the light is heavy with ultraviolet radiation, leading to cataracts becoming widespread and increased risk of cancer. during her work period, Ruth collapses, and is shown to have cataracts and to look much older than her years due to radiation exposure.
Ruth and Jane live in a makeshift home, Jane attempts to wake Ruth up for work, however Ruth dies silently, Jane, who has grown up in a world without education or any kind of social interaction, stares emotionlessly at her mothers body, before taking Ruths scarf and hairbrush before leaving.

3 more years pass and Jane appears to have picked up two male companions. None of the three "post war" children can speak proper English, instead communicating by a series of grunts, broken sentences and slang. Jane is then shown running from civil defence personnel, however her companion "Gaz" is shot. Jane and her companion "Spike" escape with some stolen food but as they inspect their booty, Spike rapes Jane.

several months later, Jane is shown wandering through the rubble of a destroyed town, very obviously pregnant. She happens across a makeshift hospital where she pleads with a woman for help as "babbie coming", initially her pleas go unanswered until she gives birth to a stillborn and deformed child, which is handed to her wrapped in a dirty and bloodstained sheet.
The film ends just as Jane screams.

Like "The War Game", this film holds nothing back, and many of the scenes are extremely disturbing to watch, but they are nevertheless a true representation of what the expected effects of a global nuclear conflict would be, in fact, in some ways the scenes are actually rather optimistic.

This is a very good film, well made and very evocative and is recommended highly.
If you would like to watch this film, click HERE

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