WE'VE GOT GRIM LOCKED DOWN

Ancient blog post from the old T.M.I. dating back to March 2008.
Word to Percy Carey – he’s got an appropriately gruelling story to tell, but when we’re not lapsing into high gloss nostalgia, nobody does bleakness like the Brits. It’s something to be proud of. Onscreen, the Canadians can bring it, as can the Aussies and Russians, but we’ve got it down to a fine art. And in the case of ‘Apaches’ and ‘Threads’ there’s a gloom that never seems to subside…

N.B. – Since I wrote this blog post, some disturbed character pulled down the copy of ‘Apaches’ from YouTube.  Salutes however, to the genius who took the dubious highlights and juxtaposed them to Roxy Music.
Recounted by shellshocked elder relatives and a must-show in educational facilities within an undefined agricultural radius, 1977’s ‘Apaches’ has no endless bongo breaks. Instead, commisioned by the man to show lower school kids what would go down if they elected to play on the local farm, it’s notable that Long Good Friday director John McKenzie got his unhappy ending training on direction duties. Childlike voices from beyond the grave speak, while a bunch of kids play around on the worst farm ever.
The bowlheaded brats meet untimely ends that veer from arsenic poisoning to the haunting image of an eight year old drowning in pig slurry. It’s barely a moral tale. They weren’t lobbing paving slabs on passing cars. They were playing on a farm. End titles offer bizarre farm fatality statistics – five children were crushed to death by fences the previous year. One was apparently killed by an explosion. At one moment almost ethereal and otherworldy. Next, it’s Final Destination as if helmed by Ken Loach. Very fucked up.

Screened after much hype, ‘Threads’ was the trauma tool for the next generation. A then-hyped 1984 BBC play on a docudrama tip, and timely, given the duck and cover paranoia of the time, it was taken very seriously. It’s still a classic – helmed by Kes director Barry Hines, but relentlessly cheerless, even down to the setting – Sheffield, in the early 80s during a nuclear winter. Fulfilling the quest to attain work canteen conversation status via mutant miscarriages, roadside vendors selling rat meat and suffocating cats, it’s not a bundle of laughs either.

No need for CGI explosions when you’ve got women wetting themselves and melting milk bottles being depressingly effective. The US had their own take a year previous, in the Steve Guttenberg vehicle ‘The Day After’ – a controversial but comparitively cheery account of the bomb dropping. But in fairness, next to Threads, even Alan Clarke’s ‘Elephant’ is a light relief.

And when ‘Threads’ screened on PBS channels in the states, one station got a man with a massive face to warn you of what lay ahead. We really should celebrate our legacy of misery more often.