Updated: May 19
Every once in a while an outstanding drama comes along, the kind that lingers in our minds, pushing us to seek out more information about the characters and the reality behind what we've watched. In this week's post on our Lifestyle Blog, we've two such gems. Chernobyl and "When They See Us" are currently wowing viewers on Netflix and HBO, and we’re pretty amazed by them too.
WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS!
"Every Lie Incurs A Debt To The Truth. Sooner Or Later The Debt Is Paid." Valery Legasov.
33 years ago, on 26 April 1986 a catastrophic nuclear accident occurred in Pripyat at the Nuclear Power Plant Chernobyl. Viewed by Scientists as one of the 2 worst incidents of its kind ever to occur (the number of victims is still widely disputed) many official reports claim the accident released 400 times more radiation than the atomic bomb that fell on Hiroshima, with the fallout contaminating over 100.000 sq km of territory. Despite the then official line that human error and criminal mismanagement were the only factors responsible for the catastrophe and the claim that there were around 31 to 54 victims, the actual figure is estimated to be closer to thousands. Furthermore, in evidence unearthed by Russian Scientists (although the findings were covered up at the time) the tragedy occurred not only because of the previously mentioned determinants, but also due to faulty equipment and negligence on the part of officials.
These events and the subsequent actions of self-serving bureaucrats, were in the words of the Russian Leader Mikhail Gorbachev "perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later."
Chernobyl, a chilling, hard-hitting drama from HBO is definitely not for the nervous or faint hearted, yet despite this, since its release in the USA and UK back in May this year, it has become one of the highest rated series ever aired on the site.
Told over 5 parts, the drama, created by Craig Mazin and directed by Joann Renck, has been widely applauded for its historical accuracy, although for the purpose of filming some liberties were taken regarding the exact timing of particular events, and a major protagonist, the scientist and whistleblower, Ulana Khomyuk is actually fictional, her character's activities being based on the heroic actions of several scientists who risked their lives working tirelessly and bravely to uncover what really occurred during that fateful night of 26 April.
Through outstanding performances from an excellent cast, including Emily West ( Ulana Khomyuk), Jared Harris (Valery Legasov), and Stellan Skarsgård (Boris Shcherbina), we bear witness to the investigation into the events leading up to the failure of the nuclear reactor, in addition to the fight to contain, conceal and deny the immense scale of the disaster and actions taken in the following "elimination of consequences."
So what is so different about this particular show? The series has been called a haunting masterpiece, with stunning cinematography, it is shot in Chernobyl's sister plant in Lithuania (as it couldn't be filmed in the still radio-active location in Pripyat). The makers also recreated the greyness of a bleak Soviet town to replicate Pripyat and the Chernobyl of the 80s, this coupled with an eerie soundtrack by Hildur Guðnadóttir adds to the overall atmosphere of terror and tension, which at times is so palpable, it feels like a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
We also gain insight into the lives of the everyday people, observing the trusting innocence of the residents of Pripyat, the sacrifice of the miners, the divers and firefighters who risked or lost their lives. In episode 4 (perhaps the most painful to watch) we observe the impact of the accident on the most vulnerable, the elderly, the animals and wildlife, all these and many more of which are often the overlooked victims and unsung heroes of this tragic story.
In a climate where we’re all familiar with accounts and revelations of bureaucratic hypocrisy, injustice and the grave, often deadly repercussions of fake news, Chernobyl has further intensified the debate on the reckless nature of propaganda hence becoming a billboard and testimony for the value of free speech and the dangers of withholding information.
Is Chernobyl is a must-see? ★★★★★
Available to Stream on HBO now!
2. When They See Us:
Every generation seems to witness at least one miscarriage of justice that stays with them and since its premier on May 31, the four episode Netflix mini-series "When They See Us" has been gripping viewers, spilling over into discussions on social media, even resulting in furious calls for action to be taken against the supervising prosecutor Linda Fairstein, who co-ordinated an interrogation resulting in the wrongful imprisonment of the so-called "Central Park Five." Golden Gobe nominee Ava DuVernay (Selma) co-penned and directed the show, creating a factual depiction of events while taking us on an emotional roller-coaster.
It's 1989, and five young suspects stand before the state of New York accused of the assault, rape, robbery and attempted murder of a 28 year old female jogger, attacked in New York's Central Park. At the time, the five youngsters, who were all men of colour and
juveniles, found themselves intimidated, terrified and bullied by law enforcement throughout their interrogation, eventually pressurised into confessing to a crime they didn't commit. Furthermore, throughout relentless questioning (a reported 42 hours, without toilet breaks) these boys (ranging from only 14 -16 years of age) were beaten and threatened into implicating each other in the attack as well as forced into admitting they'd held down the victim Trisha Melli while she was viciously assaulted.
At the time of the investigation America was gripped, partly because of the horrific nature of the crime and also spurred on by the media frenzy surrounding the case, with even an outraged Donald Trump taking out a 4 page advert demanding the death penalty for the alleged perpetrators.
Despite the lack of physical or DNA evidence, two trials later, and after withdrawing their earlier statements, the five were convicted and incarcerated solely on the basis of those coerced confessions. Fast forward to 2002, enter Matias Reyes, who, already imprisoned before for murder and rape, confesses to the crime, saying he had acted alone. Having never before been questioned in relation to the Central Park case, he provided details about the assault that only police investigators or the guilty party could have known.
A highly credible cast tackles an emotive issue, detailing how a prosecuting team conspired against a group of young men, resulting in a conviction based on the flimsiest of evidence, simply because of the colour of their skin. Starring Felicity Huffman, Vera Farmiga in major roles and electrifying performances from Jharrel Jerome, Marquis Rodriguez, Joshua Jackson, and Michael K. Williams among others. In addition, the incredible soundtrack featuring artists Public Enemy, Jay-Z and DMX provides an atmospheric backdrop to this already intense drama.
"When They See Us" is essential viewing, serving as a sobering reminder that even those who have sworn to attain and uphold justice can have their weaknesses and the fight against such failings must continue for the sake of truth and those victims whose lives are held within the system's grasp.
Is "When They See Us" a must-see? ★★★★★
Available to Stream on Netflix now!
Photo/Image Credit: via: giphy.com