If life feels a little too joyful, if you're looking to spend a couple of hours drenched in unrelenting misery, and if you want a film experience that will haunt you for literally years to come, I have some great news. The 1984 BBC telemovie Threads is receiving a new Blu-ray release, remastered in HD by Severin Films.
Threads is grim viewing. Set in Sheffield in the UK, it tells the story of Ruth in the month leading up to, and 13 years following, all-out nuclear war between NATO and the USSR. It lacks the cheery, upbeat tone of its closest US counterpart, 1983's The Day After, favoring instead bleak realism. As the threads of society break down, the poor unfortunates who survived the initial barrage don't so much live as merely exist in the post-apocalyptic ruins.
I was thankfully too young to watch Threads when it originally aired during the Cold War. Instead, I saw it at school in the late 1990s. The fall of the Soviet Union made the threat of nuclear annihilation much less present—at the time it seemed almost absurd to even contemplate—but the pure, unadulterated horror of the film was nonetheless traumatic and deeply affecting. Teenage boys normally greet serious material with cynical mockery; Threads got ashen-faced, nauseated silence, and an overwhelming sense of relief that the threat of global thermonuclear war was largely averted.
This impact is likely the reason that, in spite of the film's stature and reputation, it hasn't been shown very often. It was aired a year after its initial broadcast, as part of the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan, but the BBC didn't screen it again until the mid-2000s. Its content and runtime (just shy of two hours) make it a challenging prospect for commercial broadcasters; while it has been shown on ad-supported networks, in the US, Canada, and Australia, it has done so without ad breaks. Nobody would want their products juxtaposed with such a film.
The introductions to Threads—for example, CKVU in Vancouver, Ted Turner for WTBS in the US, and CKND in Manitoba—make clear just what an exceptional piece of television it was. It has had releases on VHS and DVD, but with limitations in distribution and availability, and it hasn't previously had an official US release.
It's a film that everyone should see. But the Blu-ray remains a little hard to recommend. Threads is not a film I'd want to have in my own video library, for a simple reason: having seen it once, I have no desire to see it ever again, and I think this is not uncommon. Twenty years after seeing it, it still makes my stomach churn; the palpable despair is as devastating today as it was then. Threads is a story entirely devoid of hope, destroying any notion of a "winnable" nuclear war. The very thing that makes it a must-watch makes it near-unwatchable.