If life feels a little too merry, if you’re looking for a few hours drenched in unrelenting misery, and if you want a movie experience that will literally haunt you for years, then I’ve got good news. The 1984 BBC Telefilm wires receives a new Blu-ray release, remastered in HD by Severin Films.
wires is grim looking. Set in Sheffield in the United Kingdom, it tells the story of a woman, Ruth, in the month before and 13 years after the all-out nuclear war between NATO and the USSR. It lacks the upbeat, upbeat tone of its closest American counterpart, 1983’s The day after, preferring gloomy realism instead. As the threads of society break, the poor unfortunates who survived the first barrage don’t so much as live in the post-apocalyptic ruins.
Luckily I was too young to watch wires when it originally aired during the Cold War. Instead, I saw it in school in the late 1990s. The fall of the Soviet Union made the threat of nuclear destruction much less present – at the time it seemed almost absurd to even think about it – but the film’s sheer, unadulterated horror was nonetheless traumatic and deeply gripping. Teenage boys normally greet serious material with cynical derision; wires went blank, a sickening silence, and an overwhelming sense of relief that the threat of global thermonuclear war had been largely averted.
This impact is probably the reason that, despite the film’s prestige and reputation, it has not been shown very often. It aired a year after its first broadcast, as part of the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan, but the BBC didn’t show it again until the mid-2000s. Its content and runtime (just two hours) make it a challenging prospect for commercial broadcasters; although it has been shown on ad-supported networks, in the US, Canada and Australia, it has done so with no ad breaks. Nobody would want their products to be placed next to such a film.
The introductions to wires– for example CKVU in Vancouver, Ted Turner for WTBS in the US and CKND in Manitoba – make clear what an exceptional piece of television it was. It has had releases on VHS and DVD, but with restrictions in distribution and availability, and has not had an official US release before.
It’s a movie everyone should see. But the Blu-ray remains a little hard to recommend. wires isn’t a movie I’d want to have in my own video library, for one simple reason: Once I’ve seen it, I never want to see it again, and I don’t think this is uncommon. Twenty years after seeing it, my stomach is still turning; palpable despair is as devastating today as it was then. wires is a story completely devoid of hope that destroys any idea of a “winnable” nuclear war. The very thing that makes it a must-watch makes it almost unwatchable.