If the sight of apocalyptic atomic explosions, cholera-infested city streets, rats being hunted and eaten and a woman chewing off her own umbilical chord aren’t enough to throw you into the depths of despair, then rest assured – the sight of a post-nuclear 1980s Sheffield will surely do the trick. Shown as part of The Tricycle Theatre’s Nuclear Film Festival, Mick Jackson’s 1984 BBC docudrama Threads tells the story of what happened to Sheffield when the Russians start playing with nuclear weapons. Jimmy Kemp (Reece Dinsdale) and Ruth Beckett (Karen Meagher) are a young couple who get married after an unexpected pregnancy, and begin to settle into ‘nuclear’ family life (pun most certainly intended).
This meagre and rather hilariously acted subplot is introduced against gathering news reports and newspaper clippings which claim that the Soviet Union has invaded Iran after a coup, and that the US are soon to intervene. Lo and behold, the Rooskies deploy a nuclear warhead, and Sheffield goes into meltdown. Old ladies are seen nicking tins of Birds custard, with one old biddy being particularly outraged by the rising price of tinned food. As the threat grows, and the atrocities mount, Threads makes for much more gripping viewing. What at first feels like a bizarre 80s Girl’s Own annual come to life, soon gives way to violent and genuinely terrifying apocalyptic nuclear meltdown which is sure to turn the stomachs of most.
The Nuclear Film Festival’s decision to kick off events with Threads is a wonderful idea, giving Londoners the opportunity to watch the cult show on the big screen. Threads was followed on the first day by Peter Watkins’ infinitely better The War Game (1965), which was judged by the BBC to be ‘too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting’, and won an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary, despite being fictional. Further highlights included Stanley Kubrick’s feted and famous Dr. Strangelove (1963), followed by a Q&A with actor Shane Rimmer and Paul Schulte (Senior Associate of the Nuclear Policy Programme), and the beautiful and heartbreaking Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), a French New Wave love story from Alan Resnais set against the turbulent backdrop of post-war Hiroshima.