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A Magazine for Sheffield
It’s a busy Thursday morning in May on The Moor. Men, women and children are all wandering the high street looking for the latest bargains, when suddenly, at 8.35am, warning sirens ring throughout the city and a giant mushroom cloud appears in the sky. Sheffield has just suffered a nuclear attack. Fortunately, it’s not reality. It's Threads, the 1984 BBC docudrama written by Yorkshire author and scriptwriter Barry Hinds which, despite being over 30 years old, remains more relevant than ever. Highly acclaimed as one of the most harrowing dramas to air on television that decade, Threads isn’t horrifying in the sense that there's a mass murderer or a terrifying creature on the loose, as in other horror films. It’s the realism of the hour and 50 minutes of television that is most shocking. Set in Sheffield during the Cold War, it follows the story of two young residents, Ruth and Jimmy, who plan to marry after an unplanned pregnancy, much to the reluctance of their parents. Meanwhile, conflicts between the US and Russia increase over Iran and, after ignoring an ultimatum by the US to leave the country, the Soviets begin detonating warheads in the Middle East. Threats of a nuclear war in England become real. Anti-nuclear rallies take place all over the country. Sheffield City Council are instructed to organise an operations team to help keep the city going, creating a makeshift bomb asylum in the basement of the Town Hall. Today’s audience will recognise many of the themes in the film. Police brutality, protests in city centres and tensions between the US and Russia are still headline news. Hinds and director Mick Jackson tap into public paranoia around the Cold War perfectly, showing genuine fear and the effects it would have on families. This is highlighted particularly with the exchanges between Jimmy and Ruth’s parents towards their children, their anger a build-up of emotions from current events, not just the pregnancy. The film is set to a number of 'facts' about the fictional war and the effects of nuclear attacks, tapped eerily on a typewriter, creating a pulse for the story. The use of an unknown cast and the setting of Sheffield, almost forgotten in terms of film locations at the time, makes a perfect combination, giving a more believable approach. Mixed with a booming voiceover and the constant use of statistics, Threads feels like a dramatisation of a real-life event for a history documentary. It also captures Sheffield incredibly well, occupying people’s minds in the city during the build up to the attack, and the lack of northern stereotypes is refreshing. It creates an emotive response to a film that could easily have been lost in TV history. This is largely due to Barnsley-born Hinds, who is also famous for his novel A Kestrel For a Knave, which Ken Loach’s Kes is based on. There’s no doubt the research has been done. Despite its bleak subject matter, there’s a lot of dark humour snuck in. Jimmy’s best friend, Bob, sums up a typical reaction you might hear in the local pub about nuclear war: “I tell you what, if a bomb drops I want to be pissed out of me mind and straight underneath it when it comes.” These small parts of light relief give the audience a rest from the soul destroying nuclear war, albeit briefly. Threads not only gives a potential insight into the outcome of nuclear winter, but it has also given me tense, restless nights for a while. After watching this film, I can never look at The Moor in the same way again. )

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