Our Generation is Missing a Film

At the height of the Cold War, two films brought the horror of nuclear war to British and American televisions — and we need a refresher.

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

A Stark Warning in a Dangerous Time

My stunned, contemplatively sombre mood was exactly what writer Barry Hines and producer Mick Jackson intended to instill. Set in Sheffield (northern England), anchored around a young couple, Threads is based on the actual scenario postulated by military planners of the time and extensive input from military, medical, and scientific experts. It depicts the build-up to nuclear war (with the Soviet Union, of course), the attack, the appalling nuclear winter aftermath and subsequent collapse of society over the dozen years, eventually depicting an unrecognisable Britain of disease-ridden subsistence farmers, where even language has disintegrated.

In post-attack Sheffield, traffic wardens are armed to help maintain order as society collapses. Still from Threads (1984), image: BBC Archives

The need for a sucessor

The depictions of sheer human suffering are timeless, however, neither of these films appear to be widely consumed today, especially amongst the generation that has grown up after the Cold War. Furthermore, while the films are still distressing, they depict a version of Western civilisation historic enough to degrade the original impact of the films — 2020 looks very different to 1983. Watching them now, they are hard to construe as active warnings about nuclear weapons, instead they can all-too-easily be disregarded as mere postulations of what could have happened in a bygone world before the Berlin Wall fell.

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