Threads

Threads, 34 years on – A Guest Review by Spencer Hackett

I remember a nightmare I had a few months back. It started out as many nightmares do, completely mundane. I was trying get a bunch of friends to a party, or something along those lines. However, by the end of the dream I was stood in an apartment building, presumably my home in this dreamscape. Without warning a blinding light filled the room, followed by an all mighty rumble. As the light dimmed I looked out to see a huge fiery mushroom cloud reaching up to the now blackened, smoke filled sky. Moments later I had startled awake in bed. It soon dawned on me that this nightmare felt out of time, that whilst political tensions of today are certainly high strung, and the threat of nuclear war has never gone away, especially given the blithering tangerine idiot in power in the States, we don’t fear it on a day to day basis. Notably, this felt like a nightmare ripped from the height of the cold war. I can’t help but think I somehow shared the nightmare of many a BBC television viewer from the 23rd of September 1984, when Threads was first broadcast.

For the uninitiated, Threads was a made for TV movie predominantly touted as being from writer Barry Hines (Kes) and was directed by Mick Jackson. It tells the story of a ensemble cast throughout the build up to, during and aftermath of a nuclear attack on the British City of Sheffield. Whilst ostensibly a drama, the film has an almost documentary quality thanks to it’s narration by Paul Vaughan and use of inter-titles. These are often used to display facts, such as the number of megatons dropped, the death rate, and other updates on the situation. The film makes for odd viewing outside of it’s original airing 34 years ago, especially for someone like myself who wasn’t alive at the time. Yet it still gripped me, and I won’t lie, gave me an incredibly troubled nights sleep.

I think to explain how the film works so well, it’s best to split the film into it’s three acts. This isn’t a typical beginning middle and end, but more a before during and after. So lets start where the film starts. The key principal players are set up, Ruth Beckett (Karen Meagher) and Jimmy Kemp (Reece Dinsdale) are a newly pregnant couple, and along with them we get to meet their immediate family. We are also introduced to Clive Sutton (Harry Beety), who will be given emergency powers of government in the case the bombs fall. We do deviate to other characters briefly, such as some anti war protests, but it’s mainly the story of these groups. We mainly watch as the cast get on with day today living, work, going to the pub, gardening etc. But even these scenes are under pinned by a sense of encroaching dread, notably due to inter-cut use of BBC news anchors Lesley Judd and Colin Ward-Lewis, along with fighter planes screaming over head and the use of real preparation for nuclear war PSA’s often heard in the background. The film brilliantly builds this sense of paranoia and tension that makes you feel sick to your stomach.

And then the bombs fall. The sirens ring out, and within the minute the first bomb has hit Sheffield. The sheer realism that this film displays the moment of the bomb dropping cannot be understated. This is not a glamorous or softened depiction. Pedestrians stampede, a character wets themselves in fright, central character’s including children are burned alive. The mushroom cloud reaches up just like that image from my nightmare, made even more imposing by the 4:3 aspect ratio. Even the powers that be, deep underground are not safe, ceilings collapsing in as panicked communication is attempted. I feel I shouldn’t dwell on this section, its a horror that has to be seen to be believed. How the BBC felt they could commission and show this is beyond belief, given their lack of real bite these days.

But whilst the shock of seeing such devastation on screen may well have been enough for most audience to stomach, the world of the “post apocalypse” for lack of a better word is truly distressing. The calm narration from Vaughan frequently updates on the effects of radiation sickness, the dwindling food stocks and how government facilities are running is unnerving, delivered as fact, not prediction. This is not the nuclear wasteland of Mad Max or Fallout, which look leisurely by comparison. Certain characters fates are never learnt, a cold reality of this level of devastation. But those we do follow give way to some of the most striking images I can think of. Workers calmly placing a colleague’s corpse into a bin bag, a woman cradling the shared remains of an infant and the now iconic traffic warden, face bandaged, armed with an assault rifle. At this point the film begins to jump forward in time, showing us the evolving landscape of post bomb Britain, jumping to around 11 years from the bomb if not further. Whilst I think narratively this hurts the film, it does make for brilliantly dreary watching. I won’t spoil some of the later reveals, but Hines and Jackson are definitely out to test their audience.

The performances here are absolutely top notch. I was really pleasantly surprised by how well the cast do in staying believable in what must have been a surreal filming situation. The heavy accents may be off-putting especially for foreign audiences, although this didn’t stop Threads being the most watched basic cable program in the history of American telly at the time (at least according to the back of the Blu Ray case). With most of the cast being from soaps and other bits of British telly, I worried the performances would let down the serious tone of the film. I love classic Doctor Who, but if you think of that around this time in its run, it was marred by less than stellar acting and set design, so for the BBC to churn this out was a pleasant surprise. The destroyed cityscapes look as real as is to be expected, and apart from some wonky looking stock footage that doesn’t gel completely, and some obvious matt paintings, the set design holds up nicely, better than some modern TV to be honest.

I’ll say it again, I can’t believe the BBC would show something like this, when this was at the heart of the nation’s fears. It was a test even for me, someone who thinks Martyrs (2008, Laugier) and Cannibal Holocaust (1980, Deodato) are some of the best films ever. To be honest, those films feel like ideal bedfellows for Threads. This great, nihilistic feeling permeates all these films, to allow for the most brilliantly, un-compromised, haunting images you can think of. It’s the clear research that went into this portrayal of nuclear Armageddon that makes it so Harrowing. Hines used “Square Leg”, a British Government project, to inform the scale of the devastation and the effects it would have on the nation. A lot of credit should also be given to Directors of Photography Andrew Dunn and Paul Morris, who shoot the film with this real gritty, natural style. This is most likely due to restrictions but it works so effortlessly. I’m sure the film would be awful if shot now on 4K ultra HD. It’s the tactility of the 16mm footage that lends the film that documentary feel, much in the way of something like Cannibal Holocaust. Similarly the use of scan line covered computerised text, whilst may seem outdated now, has this unsettling power. The film uses still photography for some moments, bringing up images of La Jetee (1962, Marker) in the mind, but without any pretence of either ham or art. This is journalism for a future that thankfully hasn’t come to pass. I urge anyone who can get hold of a copy of this film to watch it. I’ll personally vouch for the Severin re release which is what I watched, and it has bags of extra features. Watch it in the dark, alone if you can, and I’m sure by the end you’ll have your mattress pressed up against the window in paranoid fear.

The Man Who Haunted Himself

We’re going old school. We’re going Roger Moore (who didn’t ever live in Cannock).

The very house that Roger Moore didn’t live in.

2 bowler hats in less than a minute. That’s way above the Corking Movies average.

Clunk click every trip.

Nice jaunty music. Nice moustache. Freddie Jones is in this! Great actor.

Never seen anyone quite so proud that their watch matches Big Ben.

Oooh. He’s turned into a wrong ‘un.

Pop up headlights = evil/possessed, apparently. This is playing like a public information video.

“Hey you.” “Who, us?” “Yes you.” “What now?” “Don’t drive like a dickhead.”

I assume Charles Lloyd-Pack is Roger Lloyd Pack’s dad? I once saw him in Hamley’s looking glum by the table football. I think it’s because he’d been in Interview with the Vampire. Is the doctor Leonard Rossiter? This wine is horrible.

Smoking in the boardroom. Fantastic.

Whoever wrote this really enjoyed talking about business mergers.

Is his butler the lawyer from Midnight Express?

That’s a comfy looking sweater.

Oooh. He got angry there.

She’s very… English.

This film has more pipe smoking than I’m used to.

 A comfy looking cardigan. He has a fine selection of after work wear.

She wants to risk losing a whole £5? Maniac. Did he just allow someone to steal his wife’s winnings?

I might grow a moustache like Roger Moore’s for Movember.

I wish you could see that “Who are you” scene. It was like when Reeves and Mortimer did the vegetable adverts.

We’ve all been there… buying expensive jewellery but forgetting who it was for.

That dude looks like a Nosferatu from Vampre the Masquerade.

It is the lawyer from Midnight Express! He was also in Indiana Jones and his Grumpy Dad and he BBC sitcom Birds of a Feather. Midnight Express is a great film with a fantastic soundtrack.

“My soul is prepared”

Freddie Jones! Although I don’t think that Scottish accent is genuine. Just found out he’s Toby Jones’s dad. Another amazing actor.

There’s not much of interest in this film. It was a big deal when it came out.

Apparently Roger Moore beat Lee Marvin up.

Grey suit, pink shirt and blue tie? That’s not the Mr.Pelham we first met…

The most dastardly thing Evil Pelham has done is instigate a takeover and upset an attractive young photographer.

The whole film has been building up to this punchline and it’s taken a very dull route to get here. Bruce Campbell vs. The Army of Darkness did the split personality thing better.

You can tell the baddy, despite the lack of goatee. He drives smugly.

I suppose that’s an interesting thought – if the ‘bad’ Pelham isn’t massively evil, and makes the family happy, does it matter which survives?

 

 

 

Final Score

A guest review by Spencer Hackett

Final Score, a review that doesn’t have a final score.

Let’s see how the latest Sky Cinema original (not as catchy as Netflix originals) fairs. Final Score is a new Dave Batista action thriller that’s basically Die Hard in a football stadium. Co starring Ray Stevenson (Punisher War Zone, a great film) and Pierce Brosnan in what’s very much a “and/with” role, Batista has to stop a terror attack at West Ham’s ground. It’s directed by Scott Mann who worked with Batista on Heist, a not greatly received De Niro picture. I’ll set my stall out, this didn’t look great to start with, especially given sky’s dodgy track record with previous attempts Hurricane Heist and Anon. However I have a soft spot for Batista and think he is a genuinely engaging screen presence. There are spoilers coming up, so if you want to miss that jump to the long block of text at the bottom for my overall thoughts. Also I hate auto correct for constantly changing Batista to Barista, so I’m sorry if that shows up at all.

This is a lot of production companies.

Is Sokovia a real place? I thought it was just in Marvel, perhaps I misheard.

Please don’t let this be another film that’s really really dark.

“Sorry, did you not hear me?” No cus you’re mixed really badly and Batista’s panicked breathing is louder than you. Also this is fairly brutal (post viewing: what was the point of this scene? I may of missed something but how did he already know the evil people and escape from them and we didn’t see it and no one recognised each other? I’m more confused now having finished the film)

Batista hates football, this is like how John McClaine hates anywhere he ends up in Die Hard. Also West Ham must have paid them a lot to have them constantly say West Ham.

An honest deal, yesterday.

Cheeky Skepta.

Of course the cockney family own a pub.

Spent some of the last election night talking to Danny Dyer about politics on Twitter. Bit unexpected -editor


Ah so football was important to his dead soldier mate who’s kid he’s look after. Emotional stakes and all.

Why’s it doing that fade to black thing trailers do?

Ah it’s a Euro game, that makes sense. Even the Russian fans are evil it appears. Wait a minute, West Ham are in playing in the Europe??? (Post viewing edit: The Russian fans being violent never came up again, guess it was just setting the scene)

Stereotypical “she’s well fit” chavy kid.

So it’s the last game at the ground, is this so we can destroy it through the course of the film?

This does feel like someone wrote this who only has a vague knowledge of football.

God there is some appalling acting/dialogue. The kid went from being mad hype about footy to depressed about her dead dad in the blink of the eye.

Can you rewind live cameras? Surely they’d stop recording more live footage, also it only went back about 5 seconds.

More stuff stolen from Die Hard, this time Die Hard With a Vengeance. Got the bad man and bad woman have inappropriate sexy time together during the badness, also the guy has arms like tree trunks and a much smaller head than looks appropriate.

There are some bad Russian accents. Also loving the neck tattoos, cus as we all know, Russians love neck tattoos.

I’m loving Batista vision.

This lift is not lit well.

Well that was fairly brutal, shame we had to have Bourne-esque shaky cam whipping around the whole time.

Gotta love rich people listening to cellos, we know that’s all they do.

Feel like Sean Pertwee should be in this, he’d have been perfect.

“Andre this is no time to be taking shit” said in a heavy Russian accent is my favourite film quote ever.

Now we’ve got the villain and hero talking on the radio from Die Hard.

Why has tree trunk arms got the smallest gun, or is it just that it looks small.

Oh blimey.

I’m disappointed by the lack of badass one liners.

Eww…

Also where’s Pierce Brosnan, we saw him for like two seconds. At this point it feels like he just turned up to watch the game and they stuck him in. Perhaps he only fancied one day of filming.

Now we have the dropping the body out the window, or in this case off the roof, to convince the cops there’s a situation from Die Hard.

Ray Stevenson’s accent is rubbish.

Why, when this is a Sky cinema Film, could they not use Sky Sports and Sky Sports pundits for the tele bits? Feel like this was a PR decision. Ah, perhaps it’s that Jamie Redknapp didn’t fancy getting executed.

There’s no way you’d get booze from outside  into a football stadium, they proper patted my nan down at the football before, so a chavy teen isn’t getting booze in, no way.

“He was given extensive plastic surgery” to become Pierce Brosnan. So this is the get us our terror friend or we’ll do a terror thing from Die Hard 2.

Batista parkour.

I do like that they’ve used time to give some tension, at least makes the match seem useful as a plot device. Although I’m sure at 89 minutes it’ll look bad but all be good by 90 minutes, or 94 if we get to have added time, if they’ve considered that.

Where did that bike come from?! Also they paid for two tribes, they’re gonna use it (it played over the intro too).

Why haven’t they used the match commentary to narrate the action more, feels like a missed opportunity. At least they’ve done it at a key moment.

God Brosnan’s accent’s the worst yet.

I’d be a lot more concerned for the kid if she could act.

What is Pierce Brosnan?

Ray Stevenson looks genuinely pissed off here, like he just wants to go home and this scene’s taken all night.

That bullet could have easily shot Brosnan, they seemed to forget bullets travel a distance, that’s how they work.

Batista in a flat cap is my new favourite thing.

Well I didn’t see that coming…

Those effects kind of muted the impact a little.

Told you it would all be ok.

What was the final score, we never found out!!

Well that was fine. I’m disappointed it wasn’t terrible cus I’d come up with “Final Score, more like Final Bore” and now that doesn’t work (I feel your pain -the editor). I’m torn on recommending it purely because there are far better things to watch if you want an action film, and if you’ve seen any Die Hard film you know exactly how it’s going to go. I feel bad constantly bringing up another film, but it all clearly wants to be the next Die Hard. But to be fair, there were some nice crunchy fight scenes and the bike chase was a nice touch. However it’s wrapped up in a film that a little too basic in its presentation, none of it looks interesting and there are some bad effects and green screen backdrops that sucks out any tension. This wouldn’t be a problem if the film had a more fun tone. Yes Faisal is a nice comedy relief character but he’s the only comedy character which is a little troublesome in and of itself. I feel this needed to have more of a classic 80’s action edge, Batista needed to have some nice post fight one liners in the vein of Willis and Arnie. Guardians of the Galaxy proved he has impeccable comic timing and I just wish he’d been given more to do here. It’s the same with the Russian baddies, the accents are too bad to be taken seriously but they aren’t chewing the scenery enough to be entertaining. Overall if you’ve got nothing to do on an evening and you have Sky Movies watching this with some beer and crisps would be fine. But I wouldn’t in any way recommend seeing this is the cinema, it’s not good enough and not really cinematic enough. It’s a straight to DVD film that wouldn’t get any attention if it wasn’t on Sky. Hopefully Sky can pull their finger out and try and get some decent films made if they want to compete with Netflix in this arena.