Britain's answer to The Day After and Testament. It out-bleaks both of them, but the voice-over narration doesn't work very well. It also seems to lose the plot about the emergency government. I suppose it's to be assumed that they all died eventually, but it would have been nice to get some closure on that.
Mick Jackson was my pick, someone I added to the marathon this month
. Most people know him from L.A. Story, The Bodyguard and Volcano, but he is possibly the finest director of television movies. If any of you want to Marathon a great director then watch Indictment: The McMartin Trial, Temple Grandin, Live from Baghdad and Threads, his breakthrough BBC film from 1984. (For a longer marathon add Tuesdays with Morrie, The Race for the Double Helix and Yuri Nosenko, KGB).
Mick Jackson's great films are similar to Paul Greengrass. He brings the same high energy and "you are there" docudrama quality, but without the reliance on handheld cameras that annoy some of you. Threads is practically a blueprint for Greengrass' Bloody Sunday. Both films cover tragic events following various groups of people, both never feel less than absolutely real and both have a habit for fading to black between scenes, sometimes even in the middle of dialogue. Strangely, I noticed a lot of Jackson's Volcano here. Again, we're watching events happen among locals and civic leaders, though Volcano is a campy, tongue-in-cheek approach while Threads is uncompromisingly Grim.
I deliberately capitalized 'Grim', because the last hour of this film is unrelenting. It starts bad and only gets worse as doctors quickly run out of medical supplies and there isn't enough fuel to incinerate the millions of dead, let along power up bulldozers to dig graves. There's no hope or false happiness. No need to put any positive spin on nuclear annihilation. Mankind doesn't persevere and only the ones killed immediately in the blast get a happy ending. Yet, it doesn't feel like manipulation or being depressing for the sake of bumming us out. I didn't feel an agenda being pushed here, even though it clearly wants to suffocate you with the negatives of nuclear war.
I also really liked that the film is set in Britain, instead of America or Russia. Like Johannesburg-set District 9, by avoiding an obvious location it brings the story immediately to a more personal level. (This isn't even London but the working class area of Sheffield.) We start with a pair of young lovers and an unplanned pregnancy and while the escalation of war plays out on the news, we never go any higher up than a local Emergency Operations Unit.
This is where the negatives begin, because Martin is absolutely right. That group is dropped from the film. In fact the two families from the beginning of our film are missing, presumed dead or unimportant after the bomb is dropped. It's quite a messy screenplay, jumping much too quickly into the future and ending many years after the destruction. The day after, which could easily have gone on for 30 minutes, is only 1 scene and then we go to 3 days after. It takes on a different, but equally effective tone. Through stock images, still photos, narration and title cards the story jumps all around. We lose focus of the characters completely, but the impressions of life after nuclear holocaust are shocking and sad. (Do not eat food with this movie!)
Mick Jackson deserves a lot of credit for being so effective within obvious budget limitations. There are a few fakey effects and some of the photos and stock footage shots cannot be part of the overall vision, but filling in gaps he wasn't able to film. They're taken from other terrible events and don't blend in well with the footage. This isn't his best work as a director - that would be Indictment - but it still holds as an excellent film.RATING: * * * 1/2