WARNING: The following contains spoilers for HBO's Chernobyl.
HBO's Chernobyl has sent shockwaves through the mainstream entertainment industry by detailing the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of April 1986 with impeccable, disturbing detail. The five-episode miniseries written by Craig Mazin, an American, and directed by Johan Renck, a Swded, ended earlier this month, and unsurprisingly the show has drawn criticism from the Russian Communist Party who claim that it's propaganda meant to demonize the Soviet Union.
However, while the dramatized chronicle of real-world events resonates as a gripping documentary/horror that's built around painstakingly researched factual accounts and incidents. Despite all that, there's one particular design flaw in Chernobyl that's difficult to get over, the distinct lack of Russian cast members or pseudo-Russian accents.
While the series wraps brilliantly and is remarkable in many other ways, this detracts from a totally immersive and creative perspective, since you end up getting unplugged from the overall experience of the show by watching and listening to a mostly British cast.
Britain's Jared Harris is amazing as Valery Legasov, the deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute who's in charge of cleanup efforts, but as a Russian chemist, he just doesn't command the way he should in the role. The same can be said for Sweden's Stellan Skarsgård as Boris Shcherbina, the Council of Ministers' deputy chairman who tries to expose the cover-up. English actress Emily Watson is a fictional character, Ulana Khomyuk: another nuclear scientist who is as British as one can be, further reinforcing this as a co-production with Sky UK. Quite simply, there's a sense of inaccuracy when these actors take charge of a scene.
With narratives like these, accuracy makes the storytelling feel much more genuine. While it could admittedly be tough to get Russian actors to take a role in such a controversial series, a wider array of accents would have enriched the show.
The Swedish Dolph Lundgren convincingly played the Russian Ivan Drago well in the Rocky franchise, and the German Florian "Big Nasty" Munteanu played his son well in Creed II. In addition to Romanians, Bulgarians and actors like Game of Thrones' Danish actor Pilou Asbæk (Game of Thrones' Euron Greyjoy), there are Europeans and Scandinavians who can pull off accents that would have enriched this show, even if they were just supporting players. Skarsgård didn't even get a chance to try, which more or less sums the subtle British tone of the series that lacked the authentic Russian clout it should have had.
By not attempting to give the series the authenticity of Russian voices or the authority that would've come with mimicking them, Chernobyl doesn't feel like Chernobyl at all. Instead, it comes off like an nuclear meltdown story that almost seems like it could take place in England.
When foreign language content has flourished on streaming services like Netflix, it's disappointing that HBO didn't consider this as a foreign language series.
If art like this is supposed to educate and elevate us, the show's British slant dilutes the story's truth. There's no Eastern European or Soviet flair to the miniseries, and again, with such a cinematic documentary-like style, it needs to be as realistic as possible.
As it stands, there are plenty of non-English language shows and movies that have thrived in recent memory. In today's media landscape, we have so many epic Asian films and series like South Korea's Train to Busan, Dark from Germany and The Rain from Denmark. These stories are all done true to their people and culture, submerging you in that part of the world as best possible.
Ultimately, as great as Chernobyl is, it simplymisses the mark when it comes to this tale staying true to the region itself. While there are obvious hurtles in making it truly representative of modern Russia, it doesn't seem like HBO or Sky even bothered to try to bring in more of a Soviet essence into the property.
While the sets and the story might be Soviet, the people quite simply aren't, from the politicians to the cops to the journalists to the reactor workers to the the miners and firefighters caught up in the aftermath of the disaster. As it stands, the series ultimately feels like an act of creative appropriation. Even the most minor injection would have improved an already-impressive piece of work and truly made it seem like a snapshot in time from that country.
Chernobyl is created by Craig Mazin and stars Emily Watson, Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Jessie Buckley. All five episodes are now available to stream on HBO Go and HBO Now.