• Alessandro Nivola stars in ‘Chimerica’. (SBS)Source: SBS
It’s one of the most talked-about dramas on television, and it’s coming to SBS on Thursday night.
23 May 2019 - 10:13 AM  UPDATED 23 May 2019 - 10:23 AM

Based on Lucy Kirkwood’s award-winning play, Chimerica tackles the twin topics of fake news and the relationship between America and China – both of which couldn’t be more topical.

It looks back 30 years to the Tiananmen Square massacre, and as the recent tributes to Bob Hawke made clear, the emotional impact of those events are still being felt today.

The story follows fictitious photographer Lee Berger (Alessandro Nivola) who took the famous Tank Man photo during the Tiananmen Square protests. Now on the verge of the Trump era, an attempt to get America to pay attention to the Syrian War has left his credibility in tatters. Only by returning to China and uncovering the truth about his past can he find a chance to make a new future, but does the man whose photo he took even want to be found? 

Chimerica has made a big splash overseas – here’s what the critics have been saying:

The UK Telegraph calls it “a bold geopolitical thriller with brains”:

“Where Chimerica feels truly bold is in offering a nuanced portrait of Chinese society in a British drama, from the jolting scenes of military crackdown through to modern salarymen endorsing Trump against a backdrop of gleaming skyscrapers… [it’s] a brainy geopolitical thriller and there are precious few of those.”

– Jasper Rees

And their review of the second episode says it’s “Lean, mean and purposeful”:

“… the personal and political felt naturally, urgently entwined, rather than glued on… deft writing and performances have so far ensured Chimerica could never be dismissed as left-wing polemic.”

– Gabriel Tate

The Guardian calls it “unforgettable”:

“Few political dramas of recent years have felt as committed, powerful or blisteringly authentic as Lucy Kirkwood’s acclaimed thriller.”

Their review of the first episode goes further:

“It’s a strikingly intelligent drama, capturing big ideas without sacrificing story or character, and making the personal political and back again… It, unexpectedly and thrillingly, makes you care anew about issues that sometimes seem too large and ineffable to grapple with. It is a miracle of distillation and animation.”

– Lucy Mangan

iNews calls it an “atmospheric adaptation of a thought-provoking play”:

“The meaty Chimerica is about many things: the similarities between China and America, the importance of a free press, how consumption became the creed of our times, the sacrifices people make in the name of a cause, notions of what is fake and what is real. Most of all, however, it’s about those small moments that change a life and how the consequences of one split-second decision can reverberate down the years.”

­– Sarah Hughes

The Irish Times says it’s an “artful exploration of the difference between image and meaning”:

“[It’s a] picture-perfect gripping drama of fake news… Kirkwood’s writing is artful, building up vivid characters in quick strokes and delicious dialogue.”

– Peter Crawley

Metro gives it four stars:

“At its beat-up heart, Chimerica is a sprawling, unwieldy and ambitious take on a sprawling and unwieldy subject… it’s a bold attempt to get to the heart of an issue that’s got dizzy with its own spin: how do we know who is telling us the truth?” ­

– Keith Watson


Chimerica airs over two weeks in double episodes: the first two episodes screen on Thursday, 23 May and the final two on Thursday, 30 May at 8.30pm on SBS. Catch the episodes at SBS On Demand after broadcast.

Follow the author here: Twitter @morrbeat

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