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Film / Threads

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"You cannot win a nuclear war."

"In an urban society, everything connects. Each person's needs are fed by the skills of many others. Our lives are woven together in a fabric. But the connections that make society strong, also make it vulnerable."

Threads, a 1984 docudrama produced by The BBC, is the United Kingdom's answer to America's The Day After (which came a year earlier). Britain has quite the history of post-apocalyptic fiction on its DVD and book shelves, and Threads is amongst the most disturbing examples.

The film depicts the terrifying consequences of nuclear warfare upon an unsuspecting world. Set mainly in Sheffield during the height of the Cold War, Threads follows two families, the Becketts and the Kemps, amongst the other members of their town, as they deal with the absolute destruction of their society as a result of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, which was a fear weighing on people's minds at the time. The findings of the 1955 Strath Report noted that the UK was singularly vulnerable to a nuclear exchange due to the country's location, small size, high urban population, and dependency upon food imports. The film reflects this fairly accurate assessment of the UK's likely situation with what the uninformed might call a hopeless and pessimistic outset - ending with a medieval world where agriculture predominates, starvation is ever-present, modern medicine doesn't exist, martial law prevails, capital punishment is routine, children are undereducated savages, the ozone layer is gone, and Survival Of The Fittest is the only way to get by.

To any would-be viewers: if you're looking for a story with a happy or hopeful ending, this movie is not the way to go, and a strong stomach is pretty much mandatory. There are no jump scares, the Body Horror is tame by the standards of modern SFX, and there is little Gornnote  despite the ample opportunities the setting presents. Yet its strict adherence to a realistic portrayal of nuclear war and its after-effects makes it one of the scariest films ever made.

Stateside, the film was broadcast on TBS, public television, and syndicated to commercial stations. A director-approved remastered edition of the film was released on DVD by Simply Media Entertainment in 2018.

See also The War Game, The Day Called 'X', Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen, When the Wind Blows, and The Road.

This film provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Intended for the 1980s, this particular scenario seemed very likely right up until the ending of the Cold War. This article by Colonel Sam Gardiner details how escalation and counter-escalation similar to what happened in Threads could result in an India-Pakistan nuclear war. Fortunately, after the crisis in 2002 both sides seem to respect the gravity of the situation a bit more.
    • While the exact year is left ambiguous, a quick check of the days and dates in the film places the events in the year 1988 with the ending taking place around the year 2001.
      • The dates are also consistent with 1983, which would also imply that the film is set in a very believable Alternate History.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: As the situation worsens and the chances of the Emergency Council surviving plunge, one particularly stressed member of the team (the food officer, Roger Fisher) asks for cigarettes; the Regional Health Authority, Dr. Talbot, hands over a pack and snarkily remarks, "bad for your health, y'know." Clive Sutton cracks a smile at this.
  • After the End: The second half of the film documents the first 13 years after the bombs fall. It's not a happy time.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: As The Day After nuked the American heartland, a lot of the shock for local residents where the film was set was seeing Sheffield blown up and irradiated.
  • All Up to You: A week after the nuclear exchange, the city's food stocks are running out and the food officer (Roger Fisher) warns of starving mobs in districts like Sharrow and Ecclesfield. Clive Sutton refuses to release buffer stocks without authorization from Zone and County authorities. The manpower officer, Susan Russell, angrily invokes this trope in response:
    Susan Russell: But we're on our own! You've got the authority, it's about bloody time you did something with it!
  • Alternate History: While the exact year in which the film takes place is (deliberately) left ambiguous, the dates in the film are consistent with 1983, which is around the time the film would have been written, so could infer that the film is set in an alternate 1983 in which a nuclear war took place. This would set the film's ending somewhere around 1996.
  • Angry Guard Dog: Ruth has to get past one guarding a barn so she can have her baby under shelter.
  • Anyone Can Die: Played Straight; most do. Though it's not always clear who dies, which probably is intentional. Jimmy's sister Allison may be the young blonde woman glimpsed at an internment camp for looting suspects several weeks later. Jimmy himself may be seen near the end of the movie with a scarred face. We just don't know.
  • Apathetic Citizens: While the news broadcasts the deteriorating situation in Iran throughout the film, the events are only paid cursory interest by anyone who's not a government official (while there are protests, they're paid little attention to by the populace). Eventually gets deconstructed as the film goes on; the citizens become increasingly aware of how bad things are getting, but still (attempt to) ignore them either because they don't wish to confront the increasing likelihood that the world is about to end, or perhaps more likely, because they know they're powerless to stop it in any case.
    • Mrs. Kemp exemplifies the former attitude. Prior to the outbreak of hostilities, she's aloof to the reason for the panic buying at local shops. She fusses over Mr. Kemp's building a shelter, wanting to know something "more definite" before he goes "ripping this place to pieces." Even though the government's passed an Emergency Powers Act, schools are closed, and the only programme broadcasting is "Protect and Survive."
    • The more likely latter attitude is summed up in a scene in the pub between Jimmy and Bob. Jimmy expresses his concerns about the situation in Iran, but Bob just brushes them off:
    Jimmy: Dead right, you know. It's getting serious.
    Bob: Well there's naught we can do about it, is there? Might as well enjoy ourselves whilst we can!
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: Widespread looting occurs in the aftermath of the attack, and all that the government (what's left of it anyway) can do about it is herd people into internment camps and shoot anyone who doesn't cooperate.
  • Apocalypse How: The movie ends somewhere between Planetary Societal Disruption and Societal Collapse (though the film mainly concentrates on its effects on Great Britain). Although the human population of the UK is reduced to medieval levels and the nuclear winter, fallout, and loss of modern infrastructure, education, and industry has made sustaining a viable population extremely difficult, they are able to maintain a handful of more primitive tools and devices. A montage of photos suggests that after about ten years post-war Britain is capable of generating a limited amount of electricity, and is able to manufacture and maintain Industrial Revolution-era technology. It's implied that conditions will worsen into somewhere between a Class 3 (Species Extinction) and Class 4 (Total Extinction), due to the effects of nuclear winter.
    • Threads was in production at the time Carl Sagan, one of the film's advisors, published The Cold and The Dark: The World After Nuclear War (expanding on his pamphlet The Nuclear Winter from 1983)—because of that, Threads takes nuclear winter into account, while The Day After (which was in production when these studies were either not conducted or not publicly available) doesn't. The Day After also only covers at most a few weeks after the war, whereas Threads covers 12-13 years (allowing for the effects of nuclear winter—and its aftermath—to be explored in more detail).
  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: For the most part the depiction of the effects of a nuclear weapon is terrifyingly accurate, but one minor hiccup happens with the bombing of RAF Finningley, with it being implied that the backwash from a 150 kiloton detonation there is powerful enough to blow out virtually every window in Sheffield and cause not-insubstantial damage to buildings, even before most of the city gets obliterated by a direct strike with a much more powerful weapon. In reality, a 150KT detonation at RAF Finningley (now Robin Hood Airport) would barely even be noticeable at all from Sheffield, albeit it would cause that kind of damage in the town of Doncaster, which would be closer to the blast.
  • Auto Erotica:
    • A backseat makeout session with Jimmy and a girl he's picked up at the pub is suddenly interrupted by the movement of cruise missile launchers and their associated support vehicles past their car.
    • Jimmy's and Ruth's baby apparently was conceived in a car.
  • Away in a Manger: Ruth gives birth in a stable in the run-up to the first post-apocalypse Christmas, unable to reach the farmhouse because there was a guard dog in the way.
  • Bathos: One particular scene during the attack has Jimmy's father realising what's happening, all while on the lavatory, meaning he has to pull his trousers up and get ready. This is done very deliberately to provide a moment's relief while everything goes to pieces.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Subverted. After the bomb destroys the RAF airfield, Jimmy dashes through the streets of Sheffield to get to Ruth's side. He never makes it
  • Book Ends: Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" plays near the beginning and near the end of the film.
  • Born After the End: Played for Drama. Whilst it's shown that there was a generation of children born after the world-ending nuclear attacks, with Ruth giving birth to Jane several months after them, they are affected by poor educational and living conditions, and are reduced to You No Take Candle-style speech. Even worse, the ending of the movie implies that the majority of the generation after them will be stillborn mutated infants, dooming the human race as a whole.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: In the years that follow the war, limited electricity and technology is possible through steam power. In one scene, an antique steam traction engine is seen being used for farming.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: When the first mushroom cloud rises, a woman wets herself.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Most Britons' response to the potential of attack. One character openly says there's nothing they can do about it. An obviously angry protest not far from the Kemps' couple's house is brushed off as "the pubs letting out". They know that's not the case, but...
  • Casting Gag: One scene shows Ruth attending a rally for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Ruth's actress, Karen Meagher, was actually a member of the Campaign at the time of filming.
  • Children Are Innocent: Neither Alison (who's in her early teens) nor Michael (who's around eight to ten years old) seem aware of the seriousness of the situation. On the same morning the attack takes place, Alison responds to the news that school is cancelled with delight at the thought of missing a history test and Michael says of his family's woefully inadequate shelter:
    Michael: We'll be able to sleep in it! It'll be like going camping!
  • Crapsack World: And how. Basically, from the moment the bomb drops, nothing good happens.
  • Crazy Survivalist: George Langley, the Buxton resident who's forced to house four temporary residents (Ruth among them) as per emergency regulations after the nuclear exchange. He isn't having any of it, arguing with the officer, refusing to house strangers, and loudly fretting that his unwanted tenants might be contaminated with radiation or disease. After the officers leave, he throws Ruth and the others out at gunpoint.
  • Crisis Point Hospital:
    • The film's narration makes it clear that the lack of drugs, bandages, clean water or electricity make it just about impossible for the doctors to help anyone in the aftermath of the nuclear attack. Consequently, the hospital focused on sixteen days after the blast is a filthy, gloomy, hopelessly-overcrowded ruin where wounded citizens queue in crushing conditions and ill-equipped surgeons are forced to improvise what little treatment they can: bandages are made from torn sheets, glass is picked from open wounds with tweezers, table salt is used in place of antibiotics, and infected limbs are sawed off without anesthetic.
    • The makeshift hospital encountered thirteen years after the blast is, if anything, even worse. It looks like it's been assembled in what's left of a public toilet, the one attending nurse can barely bring herself to look after her patients, and the patients are given very little supervision. To note, the doctor nearly forces Jane (who can barely speak any English) out before the later announces, "Coming... coming!" while reeling over a bed — right beside a patient recovering.
  • Cute Kitten: Ruth's tabby cat ...except that the kitty in question is shown writhing in agony as it suffocates/burns to death in the massive firestorm following the first bomb detonation.note 
  • Dangerous Drowsiness: In the days following the nuclear attack on Sheffield, Ruth's grandmother—already badly affected by shock—begins sleeping through mealtimes, and though Mr. and Mrs. Beckett believe that rest will do her some good, it's obvious that she's severely ill from radiation exposure. The very next scene with the Becketts features her body being hauled out of the fallout shelter by her grieving relatives.
  • Dead-Hand Shot: Numerous bodies sticking out of rubble, many burned beyond recognition.
  • Death by Irony: Ruth's parents are in an excellent position to survive the war. They take shelter in the basement of their sturdily built house, which is fairly far from the epicenter of the nearest blast, and they have ample provisions. But they completely forgot about security, and a group of looters soon break into their house and shoot them to death.
  • Death from Above: The modus operandi of ICBMs.
  • Death Trap: As soon as things start looking hairy, the Sheffield emergency council meets in the converted basement of the town hall. It's stocked with food, water, comm equipment and an emergency generator—pity that A-bomb had to knock down the entire building on top of the exit. The ceilingnote  holds and they can givenote  orders via phone and radio, but they're trapped with limited food, water and air. Four weeks later, a squad of soldiers finally dig their way to the bodies.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: The only viable currency becomes food, given as a reward for work or withheld as punishment.
  • Depopulation Bomb: People born before the attack don't last long in general. The first generation born after the attack appear healthy and show no obvious signs of physical deformity, though their language skills are degraded to the point where they can barely form coherent sentences. The film ends with Jane giving birth to one of the first second-generation post-war babies; her screaming upon first seeing her own child doesn't paint a particularly optimistic view of the future.
  • Determinator: Amid the remnants of the survivors 13 years after the attack, there appears to be one single teacher who is still trying to teach kids to learn grammar (albeit with dated "Words and Pictures" educational videos) and learn arts and crafts.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The first half-hour is spent developing various characters in Sheffield, including the Town Council, Ruth and Jimmy's respective families and various other supporting character before everything goes to Hell - figuratively and literally.
  • Disaster Scavengers: Just about everyone, naturally.
  • Doomed Protagonist: Let's just say, try not to get too attached to anyone.
  • Downer Ending: At any given point after the attack, it's hard to imagine that things could get much worse. Until they do. So, just as humanity seems to have limped along into a second medieval age, narrowly avoiding the complete annihilation of their species, we are given a glimpse of a significant part of the second generation of post-war babies, which quells any lingering hope viewers may have been desperately clinging to of a rapid recovery. Also, Ruth, who's the only survivor we've met from the beginning (other than Bob) to make it to the third act, finally dies from the years of UV and radiation exposure, looking 80 years old when she's only about 30. She's the last "thread" and when her character is snipped, it means everyone the audience rooted for in the beginning is dead.
  • Dumb Struck:
    • Most of the country, and presumably the rest of the world, too. The traumatized survivors of the attacks in the aftermath of the Nuclear Winter are hardly ever seen to talk.
    • Jimmy Kemp's coworker, Bob, exemplifies this during the nuclear exchange. When he first sees the mushroom cloud over RAF Finningley, all he can do is bite his thumb in shock.
      Bob: Jesus Christ, they've done it! ... ... They've done it ... !
    • Both Bob and Ruth exemplify this trait when they run into each other a few weeks after the attack. When Bob first speaks to Ruth, she doesn't initially respond at all. Later, they share a meal - a rotting dead sheep - but say little, and soon go their separate ways.
  • Dying Race: A large part of humanity after the bombs fall. Even though there are millions of survivors still left in Britain after the initial blast, famine, disease, and violence kill millions more. The film ends with Jane being horrified by the sight of her newborn baby, which likely would not be an unusual experience for post-war mothers.
  • Dystopia: The world after doomsday. Clearly, somebody is trying to enforce some semblance of order but due to the extreme nature of life on the planet, it proves difficult to do so without crossing over numerous moral boundaries, and most people are too concerned with their own safety to worry about the rest of the world anyway. Making matters worse is the mere fact the bomb destroyed most of the communications capabilities, as well as the infrastructure and fuel. Major rescue equipment is unavailable, directly resulting in the deaths of the trapped town council. Stockpiled food supplies initially are locked away, awaiting orders to be released from people who are long dead, and looting becomes rampant, to the point that the remaining police and military are basically given free reign to execute anyone that is caught looting or won't stand down when ordered to. As if the fear of radiation sickness isn't bad enough, the mere fact that the millions of decomposing corpses can't be buried leads to outbreaks of Cholera, Dysentery, and Typhoid. No matter how strong you are, you're not going to reach a ripe old age in this new world.
  • Easy Logistics: Averted. The attempts by the emergency council to do... well, anything at all after the attacks happen are utterly inept. They have no communications, as an EMP blast from a nuke detonated over the North Sea wipes out most of their comms before the attacks even start properly, and nobody is in a situation to receive messages when there's no electricity. Not to mention that attempting to move food and supplies to vital areas when all transport infrastructure has been entirely demolished and fuel supplies are diminished within days is portrayed as about as impossible as it would be. It also doesn't help that the members were underground beneath the town hall, which collapsed when the bomb blast hit. They're then trapped underground with no hope of reasonable rescue and eventually all suffocate.
  • The '80s: Very much a reflection of the early 1980s fear of nuclear war.
  • Emergency Broadcast: The constant airing of "Protect And Survive" segments are somewhat like this.
  • EMP: A high-altitude nuclear detonation over the North Sea destroys most electrical infrastructure (and electronics) in Britain before the country itself is hit.
  • Empathy Doll Shot:
    • Michael's handheld video game. However, Michael's body is shown earlier in a Dead-Hand Shot, and we see him burn to death in the destruction of Sheffield, when he is outdoors in line of sight to the fireball.
    • Jimmy's book of foreign birds.
  • Eternal English: Averted. Just 13 years after the attack, the English language is practically unrecognisable due to a severe lack of literacy and education. The form of English the children of the attack survivors speak has become very slurred and simplified, and Gaz and Spike, the boys who come for Ruth's daughter Jane can only really speak in a strange, heavily-accented Yorkshire dialect, with the most common phrases being "Gi'sit" (give us it) and "C'mon".
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Not even remotely funny in its execution. In fact, those who were killed instantly during the first nuclear attack got lucky. Of the leads we meet in the beginning, only the town council, Mr. Kemp, Bob, and Ruth make it deeply into the second act. Mr. Kemp succumbs to radiation poisoning at the hour 27 mark. The town council is confirmed suffocated to death to begin the third act at an hour and 30 minutes in, and Bob shares a few scenes with Ruth before departing to parts unknown, leaving us with only Ruth until the narrative shifts to her daughter, after Ruth dies, to the end of the film.
  • Everybody Smokes: Justified, as this was The '80s and in the middle of one of the most stressful situations possible. That said, everyone in the underground shelter smoking likely led to an even faster loss of breathable air...
  • Eye Scream: When the first blast wave hits, people get glass from shattered windows in their eyes.
  • Faceless Goons: Justified as soldiers are wearing gas masks against airborne radioactive particles and diseases. A policeman (really just a deputized traffic warden, the British equivalent of a meter maid) at the detention centre has a burn mask covering his face.
  • Fallout Shelter Fail:
    • An emergency council is assembled in the basement of Sheffield Town Hall in the hopes of managing the situation if the worst comes to the worst: the makeshift bomb shelter has food, water, a portable generator and communications equipment, so despite the confusion, the council seems well prepared. Unfortunately, when World War III does break out, the nuclear attack causes the entire town hall to collapse on top of the shelter, trapping the council inside; forced to wait until the army can dig them out, the council can only sit tight, argue frequently, and try to manage the rapidly-deteriorating situation by radio. Worse still, the blocked air vents begin to cause breathing difficulties for some of the council members. By the time the army reaches them, the entire council has suffocated to death.
    • Following government advice, the Kemps attempt to build a hasty inner refuge out of doors and mattresses. This probably wouldn't have been of much use against a direct strike even if they'd finished it in time, but thanks to sheer bad luck, their house is on the very precipice of the strike zone, and the building is almost completely destroyed, rendering the inner core largely useless and exposing it to the elements. Michael is severely burned by the fireball and then crushed beneath the rubble, Rita suffers fatal burns, and Bill is left to slowly die of radiation sickness.
    • By contrast, the Becketts have a sturdy basement, and are lucky enough to own a house situated well outside the initial blast zone. Though they still experience a death in the family and Ruth runs away from home soon after, it appears as though her parents have all the supplies they need to survive the apocalypse and potentially start a new life for themselves. Unfortunately, the one thing they forgot about was securing and defending their home. Some time later, a gang of looters break in and murder Ruth's parents to steal their food. Ruth also remarks that they're STILL breathing in the radiation, as nuclear fallout can settle anywhere and gamma radiation can penetrate even through thick surfaces, and is ultimately inescapable. So, even if the house hadn't been raided, Ruth's parents would have most likely fallen severely ill from radiation exposure and eventually perished anyway. Their true problems after the attack would just be BEGINNING.
  • Fate Worse than Death: So, you survived the initial bombing? Too bad for you, because the aftermath is far worse than anything you could imagine.
    • Lampshaded by Jimmy's parents, who break down into tears as they both admit they wish they could swap places with their dead son, Michael.
  • Fleeing for the Fallout Shelter: When nuclear war finally breaks out, the only group prepared for it are the Emergency Council, who have already taken up permanent residence in a shelter under Sheffield Town Hall. Everyone else is left struggling for cover: the Becketts are at home, but have to carry the grandmother of the family downstairs to the cellar before the blast wave hits; the Kemps are at home but haven't finished their shelter, and spend the last few minutes trying to assemble everything before it's too late but the house turns out to be right on the edge of a strike zone, so it's rendered worthless anyway; finally, Jimmy is caught out at the local joinery, and with his car rendered useless by the EMP, he's left frantically sprinting home. Given that he's never seen again, it can be presumed that he was killed in the blast.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • At the very beginning of the film, Ruth and Jimmy have a discussion about living in the countryside, with Ruth commenting it might be a good idea and Jimmy scoffing at the idea, complaining that it would take too long for them to get back to the city to work. As events in the film play out, it becomes clear that Ruth has no choice but to flee from the city towards the countryside, which is where she eventually sets up roots for the remainder of her life.
    • A short time later, as Ruth tells Jimmy that she's pregnant, she responds to his concern and confusion by saying that it's "not the end of the world." Thirteen years later, that statement takes on a new meaning when their first grandchild is born, with the mother (Jimmy and Ruth's daughter, Jane) looks horrified at the sight of it. The film ends at this point, implying that the human race may never recover from the effects of the war.
    • When Bill's neighbours, the Stothards, decide to make a break for it.
      Mr. Stothard: Have you turned that gas off?
    • After the attack, Ruth breaks down in tears in the fallout shelter and cries that she doesn't care about her baby any more, convinced that all the radiation she's breathing in will severely harm the baby. Cut to the end of the film, set thirteen years later...
    • Before the war actually breaks out, various diegetic sounds in the soundtrack (a note in music that Alison listens to, the whistle at the joinery, the explosive sound of a Phantom taking off) sound just like air raid sirens or explosions, until they're shown to be something else.
  • Freudian Threat: Early in the film, Jimmy's parents don't take the news of Ruth's pregnancy kindly.
    Bill: Honestly, Jimmy, you want your bloody head seen to!
    Mrs. Kemp: I think he wants something else seen to as well.
  • From Bad to Worse: It turns out that a quick death from the time of nuclear impact is probably the most humane way for someone to go, as the following days and weeks see people resorting to looting (and possibly murder) to survive, characters are shown stealing from government-operated foodstocks (some of which are shot down as they flee), residents of Sheffield fleeing the city in favor of unknown radiation hazards in the countryside and others being reduced to animals as they fight for what few supplies are left. Thirteen years later, things are still at a disastrous level, as the education system has collapsed, the British population is reduced to near-medieval levels, most children can barely string two words together, and it's heavily implied that the ozone layer is severely damaged and humanity as a whole is entering a longterm population bottleneck due to mutations and stillbirths.
  • Gaia's Lament: Particles of dust and soot resulting from the global nuclear warfare diminish sunlight, leading to mass crop failures and plant death. It takes nearly a decade for the dust to settle down and any meaningful agricultural production to return. The ozone layer is also severely diminished, leading to more UV rays hitting the Earth and damaging DNA, resulting in nasty health conditions.
  • Get-Rich-Quick Scheme: Retailers treat the whole situation before the bombs fall as a opportunity to profit, vastly inflating prices for basic goods that the government has told people to buy in preparation for nuclear war, implying this will help them survive. The bombs then do fall, leaving them with worthless paper money they can't ever use.
  • Hope Spot: Thirteen years after the nuclear exchange, sunlight has finally returned after the nuclear winter ended, and a limited form of agriculture has managed to start back up, suggesting that humanity may be starting to rebuild. However, Ruth suddenly dies in her thirties from cancer as a result of the radiation and UV exposure, and Jane, her young daughter, is forced to fend for herself in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. After Jane becomes pregnant, she gives birth to a baby, but her reaction heavily implies that the baby is far from being healthy. Made all the worse by the fact that Ruth herself predicted that this would happen thirteen years prior after breaking down in tears in her parents' fallout shelter.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When a fleeing looter is shot, a soldier checks his body and finds a bag of crisps. Another soldier gripes over the flavour of crisps found, clearly intending to eat it himself.
  • Ignored Vital News Reports: In the opening scene, Jimmy skips past a report of the Soviet invasion of Iran while trying to find a football match on the car radio.
    • This is seen often throughout the film, with people only paying heavy attention just a few days before the bombs drop.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Sort of. Mr. Kemp shows the first signs of the radiation sickness that will soon kill him shortly after the blast, which includes a heavy cough and frequent vomiting. By the hour and a half mark, it has killed him He's so sick in the moments before he dies he instantly throws up the alcohol he's tried to drink.
  • Innocent Awkward Question: Jimmy Kemp's sudden decision to marry his girlfriend without an engagement prompts his bratty younger brother to ask what an abortion is.
  • Irony:
    • Very early in the film, Ruth marvels at the beauty of the countryside and discusses the possibility of moving there, which Jimmy dismisses as "dead". In the weeks following the blast, Ruth is forced to leave Sheffield for an extremely harsh, cold, and thoroughly-ruined countryside with none of its former beauty. For good measure, she does indeed find a home out there... as a farm laborer who eventually dies young due to a mixture of stress and UV overexposure.
    • Despite the impracticality of mass burials and given the Crapsack World situation, it's a wonder that Ruth not only passes away while aided by a family member in a house, but gets to die in her own bed while relatively warm and secure. To note, this is the only respectful and dignified death in the entire movie, as virtually everyone else is either shown slowly succumbing to radiation sickness or having their bodies left in otherwise-horrific circumstances.
    • There is a scene in the first half of the film where somebody is watching Tomorrow's World and even the theme music for the show can be heard. Tomorrow's World being a show all about predicting near-future technological developments and how wonderful things are going to be. However the characters of the film (the ones who survive the initial exchange at least) have no bright future to look forward to, scratching out a sustenance living in a barren and frozen post-apocalyptic Scavenger World that may well take centuries to recover (if it ever does).
  • Jerkass: The cruel old man in Buxton who throws Ruth out into the street, ignoring explicit government orders to open his four spare rooms up to the visibly freezing and starving lodgers.
    • Jimmy also has a shade of this. Overwhelmed by the thought of his impending marriage, and at Bob's encouragement, he takes a woman he meets at the local pub up to the same spot where he likely got Ruth pregnant to have sex with her, and it's only the military interrupting them with a platoon of noisy vehicles that stops them. He does redeem himself when he dashes through the streets to get to Ruth as the bombs are going off.
  • Just Before the End: Post-nuclear Earth doesn't have a whole lot going for it.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: The photographs depicting the effects of the war on society over narration and stats.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Depends solely on the viewer's point of view. If the viewer is upset at the way the town council (with a few exceptions, namely Roger Fisher) refuses to risk fire brigades in certain parts of the city or release food stores to people dying of radiation poisoning, then the fact that the council themselves dies while running out of supplies and then out of oxygen because the rescue crews didn't have the equipment to reach them in time could come off as this.
  • Man on Fire: Mrs. Kemp catches fire during the montage of shots after Sheffield is hit by a nuke.
    • There are also countless shots of burning bodies in the immediate aftermath of the bomb attack amongst the rubble of Sheffield.
  • Meatgrinder Surgery: With the hospitals being completely swamped by victims of the nuking, medical supply production and distribution grinding to a halt, and the destruction of the power grid meaning electricity is as nonexistent as the equipment, the doctors are as inept as any other bystander in treating wounds and burns, and resort to truly desperate methods, such as operating with crude tools on still-conscious and non-anesthesized patients, including children.
  • Moment of Silence: When text appears on the screen, it appears in a left-to-right typing formation with loud clicking noises, similar to a teleprinter. But after the attack, when that text appears, it's deathly silent, the same for the credits after the wind ambience stops. The narrator also stops speaking after the first nuclear winter, which kills off many of the young and old.
  • No Ending: The film ends abruptly with Jane being handed her newborn baby and her being appalled by it. However, there's also no actual epilogue on what ultimately happens to the human race afterwards, and there's not really supposed to be.
  • No Healthcare in the Apocalypse: The film points out that, even if Britain's National Health Service survived a nuclear attack, it would be unable to cope with the effects of even a single nuke on a single city. This is illustrated via a scene set in a hospital which has been overrun with bomb casualties, where operations (including amputations) are being carried out without anesthetics, under conditions where even basic levels of hygiene are impossible to maintain. The accompanying narration states that doctors can now do virtually nothing for their patients and are "little better equipped than the nearest survivor."
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • The hospital scene. The poor lighting hides what's going on, which is probably for the best.
    • We never see what remains of Ruth's parents, only her horrified and disgusted reaction when she finally comes home, with flies buzzing ominously in the background.
    • We only see brief glimpses of what Jane's baby looks like, but what we do see isn't pretty. From Jane's horrified screams, our imagination can easily fill in the gaps.
  • Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: The Sheffield emergency council falls to this after the bombs drop and their shelter is caved in by the City Hall collapsing on top of them. They spend far more time shouting and yelling at each other than they do at trying to actually restore a semblance of society. Roger Fisher and Susan Russell have their moments, however.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Clive Sutton goes through this after one of the advisors tells him that the radiation levels in the city he lived are lethal beyond measure and he realizes his wife, whom he left behind, is either already dead, or is dying alone, and he can't do anything about it. He's left staring at the city's dot on the large wall map in front of him, his lip quivering in sadness as he tries to hold it together.
    • Also, Doctor Talbot, who for most of his appearance has behaved scientifically and dispassionately finally loses it when he's forced to order rations for the survivors at 1,000 calories for those that can work, and 500 for those that can't. He can only stare at the ceiling and scream "BASTARDS!" for the nuclear attack forcing him into making an impossible decision.
    • The angry dog situated at the farm where Ruth gives birth to Jane is shown quietly freaking out at the screams and cries coming from the barn house, to the point that he stops barking entirely and merely stares in utter silence.
      • Finally, Ruth completely breaks emotionally after seeing the complete destruction of Sheffield and finding both her parents dead. After saying she no longer cares about the baby in the cellar, she doesn't audibly speak again until she encounters Bob in the third act. Even then, she's unresponsive to him initially. When they separate a couple of scenes later, we never hear her speak again.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • "ATTACK WARNING RED. ATTACK WARNING RED." Cue one of the councillors: "It's for bloody real!"
    • As the first mushroom cloud rises, the whole country goes into outright panic, and one woman in particular is overcome with fear to the point of wetting herself.
    • During production, a smoke bomb was used to simulate the mushroom, actually (but accidentally) causing panic in the area near the set.
  • Please Wake Up:
    • Zigzagged with Jane, who is seen trying to rouse her dying mother. However, once Ruth has actually died, Jane, after shaking her one more time, quickly realises Ruth isn't going to get up and stoically walks away as though nothing has happened. It's unclear if Jane's apparent lack of grief is due to damage to the area of her brain which processes emotion, or the fact that she has seen death so often that she eventually became desensitized, and it doesn't really have much of an impact on her. Either way, the only belongings of Ruth's which Jane takes with her are things which have a practical use, a scarf and a hairbrush.
    • The scene with the woman and the charred baby inverts this trope. The woman in question isn't trying to rouse her baby, but it's clear that she's shell-shocked to the point where she doesn't realise the child is dead.
  • Police Brutality: The police are shown violently breaking up an anti-war protest early in the film. After the attacks, British military police use tear gas to disperse and arrest survivors demanding food and shoot anyone who doesn't run away.
  • Potty Failure: This happens in a memorable shot, as noted above.
    • The film's narrator also notes that in the initial stages after the bombing, the symptoms of panic and radiation sickness are the same. To illustrate this we are shown Ruth's mother asking her to come and help clean her grandmother, who has soiled herself in fear.
  • Public Service Announcement: The film was made disturbingly realistic by using genuine public information films. During the 1970s, these films would have been publicly disseminated in anticipation of national emergency, concerning what measures to take in the event of nuclear war. Threads demonstrated in horrific detail just how utterly ineffective and inadequate they would be.
  • Rapid Aging: Ruth in her 30s looks like an 70 year old woman due to trauma and the ravages of UV and nuclear radiation.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Food manager Roger Fisher is very much the red oni to Clive Sutton and Dr. Talbot's blue.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: In one of the post-nuclear war scenes, juxtaposed against a Standard Life insurance company ad for Irony. To make matters worse, Ruth apparently traded sexual favors for a few dead rats.
  • Refusal of the Call: Roughly half the appointed town council members don't even bother coming to the "bunker" under the town hall. On the day of the blast, one of the managers that arrived is haranguing a member who didn't over the phone. When the unheard member complains he doesn't want to leave his family, the other council member who did show up argues that everyone has family and he needs to come in. When the building collapses and traps everyone inside, it's still the same number of people we saw when they were first introduced.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Of the "baby in a manger" variety; Ruth's child is born in December, and the following scene has her huddling around a fire with other survivors (presumably in the same barn) on Christmas Day with the newborn Jane crying in the background.
  • Scavenger World: The world after the bombs. There appears to be some semblance of an economy, agriculture and education 13 years after World War III, but it's nowhere near enough yet to make serious progress towards rebuilding society.
  • Scenery-Based Societal Barometer: The Council Bunker often serves as a measure of the current state of society and the government. It seems fairly orderly at first at the initial mobilization for war, but it soon becomes clear that most of the committee have no idea what they're doing and have received little to no prior training, much like the rest of the city. Then, once the bomb hits, the town hall outright collapses on top of the bunker, leaving the council trapped inside, killing one of them, mirroring the many casualties above ground. As the weeks go by and the situation gets worse, the bunker becomes progressively messier, as dirty plates pile up, empty packets of cigarettes and cigarette butts cover the tables, buckets are hastily set up under the leaking roof, and the clothes of the council members grow more and more rumpled and dirty. More worryingly, with the vents blocked by several thousand tons of rubble and filth, the amount of breathable oxygen in the air drops lower and lower, leaving several council members collapsed against the wall out of hypoxia. By the time the Army arrives to rescue them, the council has long since suffocated to death, and from here on, society has descended into utter chaos, and is entirely controlled by the remnants of the British Army.
  • Scenery Gorn: Much of the harrowing atmosphere of the film comes from the devastated urban landscapes full of charred rubble and corpses, and the largely barren and frozen countryside.
  • Screaming Birth: Horrifically subverted at the end with Jane's baby.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Once the grim reality of her situation becomes clear, Ruth flees from her parents' house as they move her now deceased grandmother upstairs and drape a white sheet over her. This turns out to be the right call, as her parents perish soon after, apparently due to looters finding their house and stealing their supplies).
  • Serial Escalation: The escalation scenario that leads to Armageddon in the first place. After a US-backed coup in Iran that overthrows Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Soviet Union quickly invades to usher in a socialist government and gain a foothold in the Middle East. The Americans quickly retaliate by sending in paratroopers and setting a deadline for withdrawal, and when the Soviet Union refuses to back down, they dispatch bombers at their main staging base in Iran. The Soviet Union destroys most of the aircraft with nuclear-tipped air defense missiles, making the Americans disintegrate the base with a single battlefield nuke. In return, full-blown naval combat erupts, with the Soviets sinking the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. The Americans blockade Cuba, and after that, the war escalates into a full-blown global nuclear exchange, with dire consequences for humanity.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The last scene is the birth of an infant that its own mother finds horrifying. That is the main hurdle delaying a recovery of civilization in Britain, and probably the world as well.
  • Shown Their Work: Thanks to the army of scientific advisers (including Carl Sagan) listed in the end credits. The only really dodgy bit of science is the large scope of the destruction of the ozone layer as a result of the nuclear exchange. It should eventually regenerate itself over time in the absence of any pollutants note , but even this is something that scientists aren't 100% certain on.
  • Silent Credits: The credits play no sound whatsoever to avoid breaking the tension of the Downer Ending.
  • Skyward Scream: In one of the last scenes with the surviving council members, they discuss the dwindling food supplies and inability to get outside help. Dr. Talbot suggests cutting rations to a 1,000 calories a day for manual workers and 500 calories for the rest (over the protestations of Roger Fisher). When Clive Sutton asks Dr. Talbot what would constitute 500 calories a day, listing off examples sends him over the edge, and he can do nothing but scream "BASTARDS!" at the ceiling in impotent rage.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: At the opening of the film we hear "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry, and it reappears near the end (see Book Ends). Needless to say, while at the start of the film it accompanies the imminent creation of a life—it plays right before Jimmy and Ruth conceive their baby—by the end of the film it represents the destruction of much of human civilization, signified by Ruth's daughter Jane being horrified to the point of screaming at the sight of her own newborn baby.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: Specifically, Ruth Beckett compared to Denise Dahlberg of The Day After. Both of their families were better prepared for the nuclear exchange, and both eventually abandon (or try to abandon) their shelters out of despair. Yet while Ruth—in her grief over losing Jimmy—says she couldn't care about her baby anymore, during Denise's own breakdown she laments that she doesn't have someone to remember Bruce by and can't even remember his face now. Denise also succumbs to radiation sickness not long after she tries to escape the shelter, while Ruth appeared to have avoided the worst of the fallout ... for the first decade at least.
  • Stock Footage: A few of the shots in the initial attack sequence such as the bottles and bus windows melting, are reused footage or B-Rolls from the QED documentary Mick Jackson directed for the BBC two years earlier, A Guide To Armageddon.
  • The Stoic: Manager Clive Sutton and Dr. Talbot. Sutton only shows one crack, when he realizes his wife and family are severely radiation poisoned and will die. Talbot also cracks only once, when he's reduced to limiting the rations to 1,000 calories for workers and 500 for non-workers, and screaming "Bastards!" at the ceiling when he realize how terrible the choice is he has to make.
  • Storyboarding the Apocalypse: The world's narrated degeneration into chaos. Also the teletype-style printed reports. "80 megatons fall on UK."
  • Subterranean Sanity Failure: The Emergency Council are trapped in their bunker when the apocalyptic nuclear war brings Sheffield Town Hall down on top of their exits, leaving them trapped underground as they wait to be rescued and struggle to control the situation. In the days that follow, dwindling supplies, worsening conditions, and escalating stress weigh heavily on the Council, and many of them are reduced to screaming at each other over the slightest disagreement, to the point that even the radio operator ends up barking abuse at the people trying to rescue him. By the time the rescuers break through the rubble, the bunker ventilation has failed, and the entire Council has suffocated to death.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Essentially, almost nothing goes right for the U.K. as a whole, if not the world, and all the attempts to prepare for a nuclear attack are woefully ineffective and done too little, too late. The educational videos played for students warning of what they should do in the event of a nuclear attack are completely at odds with the reality numerous families face when an actual attack does come. The attempts to build a makeshift above ground shelter with only a couple hours' notice do nothing to prevent nor protect against rolling firestorms, radiation sickness and eventual death. Even with a formal continuity of government in place, the Sheffield branch in particular fails to address any infrastructure, housing or food concerns, and the officials we do see who survived quickly fall to a combination of a failing bunker, lack of communication and infighting. What few people survived the attack in Sheffield are forced to flee the city ruins for the countryside, dodging pockets of radiation and having to jumpstart agriculture and a new economy with antiquated equipment and a shortage of supplies and knowledge. Thirteen years on, the situation hasn't improved much at all. Education is nearly nonexistent, theft and violent crime are rampant, the survivors of the attack are dealing with Rapid Aging, cancers, and stunted growth, and the daughter of the lead female character quickly discovers how dire humanity's prospects are when she gives birth herself.
  • Technology Erasure Event: When the Soviet Union launches a nuclear strike against NATO, the first nuke detonates over the North Sea, generating an EMP that knocks out the power grids across Europe. Because of this, the UK is unable to quickly rebuild itself once the missiles start hitting military and economic targets across the British Isles, with hospitals being forced to perform Meatgrinder Surgery and a rescue crew being unable to save Sheffield's local government before they suffocate in the bunker beneath the toppled town hall. The lack of technology coupled with the nuclear winter causes Britain to backslide into a medieval society (with the lack of education meaning that it'll only get worse), and thirteen years after the war, the nation has only just started to rediscover steam power.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Jane gets pregnant at thirteen via an implied rape by a fellow young looter following a squabble over food.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Well, this is a British production after all, and without the comforting kosh of civilisation, many of the kids become little more than animals after the bombs fall, barely capable of coherent speech.
  • Tempting Fate: When Jimmy learns that Ruth is pregnant, she tries to calm him down, saying "It's not the end of the world". Three weeks later...
  • This Is Not a Drill: Several examples:
    • After the destruction of the Soviet base in Mashad, a boy rushes to a grocery store to tell his mother that the Americans and Russians have started fighting and that his father said they need to come home now.
    • Naturally, the air raid sirens just before the nuclear exchange.
    • The Sheffield emergency council hears an alarm from the HANDEL Warning Console, and the phrase is nearly invoked in response:
    HANDEL Warning Console: Attack warning RED! Attack warning RED!
    Food Officer (Roger Fisher): Attack warning? Is it for real?!
    Accommodation Officer: Attack warning's for bloody real!
    Clive Sutton: Right, get to your stations!
  • Too Dumb to Live: The officials who keep on smoking while trapped underground. This depletes their air supply even faster than it would otherwise have been depleted, and they die from suffocation before the rescue party can dig them out. However, in fairness, it takes almost a month with the rescue crews' limited rescue tools to even reach them. The generator, if used carefully, would only be operational for two weeks, and it's likely the shelter they were occupying wasn't stocked with a months worth of supplies for 10 people, so while smoking was stupid, they were likely doomed no matter what.
  • Tragic Keepsake:
    • Jimmy's handbook about birds, which Ruth finds near Mrs. Kemp's body and takes along with her. When Ruth dies 13 years later, the book is shown briefly as one of the few items Ruth carried with her through the rest of her life as a memento.
    • Mr. Kemp keeps his dead son Michael's electronic videogame. He turns it on and listens to the music it plays shortly before he does from radiation poisoning and exposure.
    • Earlier in the film, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, the emergency council tries to make sense of the damage done and contact surviving emergency services. Clive goes over a map with another council member determining the extent of radiation exposure to survivors. Asking about the area around Baslow, the other council member informs him that if it's in direct line of the wind coming from Crewe anyone there's going to get 800 to 1000 rads—easily enough for acute radiation syndrome. Clive is left in stunned silence. We quickly find out why with a lingering shot of a portrait of his wife, Marjorie, as he continues to stare at the map. The portrait's still by his side after the Army finally reaches the emergency council ... after they've all died from lack of air. Even worse, considering the position it's laying on the desk on, and Sutton's head, he was staring at it up to the moment he died.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: The Day After.
  • Two-Faced: Jimmy's mother is partially exposed to the thermal blast wave, and half her face is burned off.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: As Jane rushes heads towards the makeshift hospital during the ending, she passes by a pair of shoeless (possibly naked) corpses hung in the foreground. According to the book Threads and other Sheffield Plays (1990), they were publicly hanged.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: We see Jimmy's father puking into a rag, and Ruth's dad puking in a toilet. One of them is panicking, while the other has radiation sickness. Take a guess as to who is who.
  • War Comes Home: This story features a nuclear war spreading to the rest of the world, in this case the United Kingdom. Set in Sheffield, it follows two families as they have to deal with both the nuclear attack and the fallout as society crumbles around them in its aftermath.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • As the crisis deepens, the Stothards (the Kemps' next door neighbours) try to flee to rural Lincolnshire, where the father's brother lives. Along the way, they become caught in a traffic jam which has been caused by a combination of people ignoring official advice to stay put and all major roads being closed to non-essential traffic. This is the last that is seen of them, so their fate is unknown. However, given the film's subject matter, it's not hard to guess.
    • What happened to Bob (Jimmy's friend, who survived the initial attack) is never made clear, as he's last seen sharing a solemn moment with Ruth before departing to parts unknown. He's nowhere to be seen as the exodus begins out of Sheffield, leaving his fate up in the air.
    • Also, Jimmy and Alison. We last see Jimmy running through the streets of Sheffield as the bombs are going off. As for Alison, her mother sends her to the supermarket for last-minute supplies, and she never returns. We can certainly presume they were killed when the bombs dropped, but it's never confirmed. In a way, it plays to the film's favor that there's no confirmation, as in a real-life situation, with no help or communications, there would be countless instances of people having disappeared with no confirmation ever if they were alive or dead.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: After the attack, money and nearly all physical goods become worthless. Survivors conscripted to help with reconstruction are "paid" in food, which is "given as a reward for work or withheld as punishment." Some bartering is also seen, an example being when Mr. Kemp gives another man cigarettes in exchange for scotch, and later, Ruth is implied to trade Sex for Services after the man on the street refuses to look at the items she's offering him.
  • You Are in Command Now: Following the nuclear exchange, the Zone and County headquarters (authorities above Sheffield's emergency council) do not respond, leading Sheffield's civil officers to understand they are the de-facto senior authority to survive - a speculation denied by the wartime controller, Clive.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Subverted, as nearly two weeks after the nuclear attack, Ruth, despondent over the deteriorating conditions in the ruins of Sheffield, makes it back to her parents' home, and is mortified when she sees their decaying remains in the basement. This eventually causes her and many other survivors to flee the city entirely for the countryside. When we last see her, she's taken up shelter in a house in the country, having rapidly aged under constant UV and nuclear radiation exposure, and eventually passes away from cancer while her daughter watches.
  • You No Take Candle:
    • The speech we hear from the post-war children is broken and simplified, as very little effort is spent on trying to educate the new generations due to a shortage of resources and knowledge. A few children are seen watching dodgy recordings of Words and Pictures educational videos, and others are getting some sort of vocational training in clothing repair, but that's about as far as it seems to go for the time being. This is a doubly tragic occurrence, as the lack of advanced education for at least the next few generations suggests that basic human civilization will not be able to recover for the next few decades if not centuries. Considering these kids have almost certainly suffered intellectual disability from early childhood malnutrition, the picture becomes even bleaker. Not to mention all of the kids, including Jane, have likely suffered additional brain damage because of radiation doses received in utero.
    • Jane herself can barely string two words together when she's attempting to speak to adults. Even with people her own age like Gaz and Spike, she has little actual conversational skills. The three youngsters do exchange words, but they mostly consist of the boys demanding a share of Jane's food, and one of them is implied to be the father of Jane's baby. Most of the post-war kids also often repeat the same word or phrase over and over, as if they don't know any other way of getting their point across. This is first seen when Jane tries to rouse the dying Ruth, shouting:
      Jane: Ruth? Ruth! Work. Work. Work. Up!
  • Younger Than They Look: After the ten year Time Skip, Ruth, who by that point would barely be in her thirties, has visibly aged by about forty years. This is due to the years of radiation exposure and the amplified ultra violet rays from the Sun breaking past the damaged ozone layer, causing her to suffer cataracts.


Video Example(s):



In the aftermath of a nuclear attack on Sheffield, wounded survivors converge on a working hospital in search of help - only to find that without supplies, electricity or even a semblance of hygiene, any help the hospital offers is going to be crude, painful and possibly deadly.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / CrisisPointHospital

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