Friday, December 19, 2008


December 19, 1986:
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev releases Andrei Sakharov and his wife from internal exile in Gorky.

Two years earlier, Jason Robards and Glenda Jackson portrayed the Sakharovs in a TV movie about what led to this form of imprisonment. HBO moved up the film's premiere date because of Sakharov's hunger strike, which was undertaken in hopes it would force the authorities to let his wife leave the country for a needed operation.

Here is an extended excerpt from the New York Times review of that TV movie:

Essential biographical details are taken care of in the very first scene as a Soviet official lectures an unidentified group, who may or may not be members of the K.G.B., about Dr. Sakharov's background: born in 1921, a doctorate in physics in 1953, the year he also became the youngest member ever to be elected to the Academy of Sciences. As the physicist credited with developing the hydrogen bomb for the Soviet Union, Dr. Sakharov is one of the country's elite. He is a respected academician and, as another dissident later explains, more than that - ''You're one of them, not a Jew.''

Portrayed powerfully by Jason Robards, whose lean and craggy face comes closer to resembling Boris Pasternak, this Sakharov is a quiet, rather dour man who insists that he doesn't always seek out trouble. Yes, someone agrees, but ''you don't always avoid it either.'' When approached to sign a petition for an arrested dissident, Sakharov tells his first wife (Anna Massey), ''If I was in a prison camp, wouldn't you want people signing petitions for me.'' As he drifts slowly but unhesitatingly into more unpopular causes, his privileges are cut back and eventually he loses his top position as a teacher of physics. After the death of his wife, he sits alone on a park bench, still being watched by the authorities from a distance.

Through his association with dissident causes he meets Miss Bonner, a divorced woman with grown children. She is played by Glenda Jackson, whose special chemistry with Mr. Robards gives their scenes an extraordinary weight. Half-Jewish and long an active Communist, Miss Bonner becomes the driving force in Dr. Sakharov's life. When they eventually marry, he acquires the family he never had and becomes dedicated to its survival, especially when it becomes apparent that the Bonner children are being threatened and punished for the supposed transgressions of their parents.

It is Miss Bonner's elderly mother who prophetically warns her son-in- law that things are not so different from what they were under Stalin. Today they don't need terror, she observes, they have other ways, such as marshaling ''world opinion'' and having colleagues denounce you. ''They'' are not different, she insists, only smarter.

Why does Dr. Sakharov resist? He tells Western journalists that he has a need to create ideals. No ideals, no hope, he says, ''and then one is completely in the dark, in a hopeless blind alley.''

Needless to say, the Sakharov fight for human rights knows no geographical limitations. Among his more personal causes is his resistance to arguments for nuclear superiority or the death penalty. If he were outside the Soviet Union, he doubtless would be at the forefront of demonstrations that wouldn't necessarily be sanctioned by some of his current supporters. This is the crucial point scored quietly in this film, even as it shows George Orwell's vision of ''Nineteen Eighty-Four'' harrowingly close to being fully realized in the Soviet Union.

Writing up this piece only makes it more imperative that I finally get myself a scanner for Toobworld Central. I can't find a single decent photo or video clip from that TV movie online, but I do have one in a massive book on TV movies in the Great Library. Oh well. I'll post it eventually, so that anybody else who might find themselves in need of a picture of the televersion of Sakharov can find one......

Toby O'B

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