Jarred Harris as Valery Legasov with Emily Watson as Ulana Khomyuk in a scene from Chernobyl. Picture: Supplied
Jarred Harris as Valery Legasov with Emily Watson as Ulana Khomyuk in a scene from Chernobyl. Picture: Supplied

Where’s our Geiger counter?

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published May 31, 2019

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Critics are lauding HBO’s historical mini-series, "Chernobyl," a dramatised version surrounding the nuclear disaster of April 1986 in Soviet Ukraine. It looks at the events around this tragedy, the brave souls who sacrificed everything in the face of it, those that played a hand in it and the cover-ups that ensued.

Jarred Harris and Emily Watson helm the series.

Expanding on his character, Harris says, “I’m playing Valery Legasov, the lead scientist in the clean-up and the guy who has to figure out how to put Pandora back in the box. He was plucked out of his life one morning and placed in the worst place on earth by the afternoon. He’s not a natural hero. If you asked him would he rather it was somebody else, he’d definitely say yes, but he realises he’s going to have to do it and there’s no leaving there until it’s done.”

Are there any interviews or footage to base him on?

“The Soviet Union erased a lot his involvement and his legacy, but there’s some footage that survived. There is swagger to the man, but that just didn’t work for our character,” he adds.

In episode one, a man commits suicide. And it’s a rather poignant scene.

Harris explains: “He did it on the day he was supposed to deliver another report to the politburo, lying and saying how everything’s fine. He wanted the truth to get out there because there was still an unresolved problem. So his suicide had a purpose.”

Shedding light on her role, Watson says, “I play Ulana Khomyuk - a composite character created from a range of scientists. She’s from the Belarus Institute of Nuclear Energy, so she’s far away, but alarms go off, and she works out where the radiation is coming from. She’s very smart and very determined, and works out the way they’re fighting the fire could trigger a secondary explosion.

“She drives to Chernobyl, persuades them and becomes a trusted part of the team. Jared’s character asks her to get to the bottom of what happened. It takes a dark turn when she starts coming across material that’s been redacted and realises there were design faults known all along.”

On the relevance of the story being told today, she explains, “It’s about ownership of truth and the nature of energy and how we control it. It feels like both those things are desperately urgent and that the wheels of history are turning before our eyes. I think it’s a very politically astute, relevant piece.”

Chernobyl is a disconcerting tale, bolstered by powerful performances and taut direction.

Capturing a real-life event on screen is no easy feat, but director Johan Renck does a commendable job in how he steered the story.

Chernobyl airs on M-Net (channel 101) on Wednesdays at 10.10pm.


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