Chernobyl

Chernobyl, written by Craig Mazin, dir. Johan Renck. A co-production of HBO and Sky UK.

Reviewed by Keith Davies

This outstanding TV miniseries covers the accident that occurred in the early hours of 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, then part of the USSR. From the confusion in the control room straight after the explosion of Reactor 4 to the truth being revealed at the trial of those who were deemed responsible, the show keeps you gripped with its human-centric retelling of events.

The show excels at bringing forward the tremendous human cost and heroics that such a disaster entails, whether it be the firefighters first on the scene battling the initial blaze, unaware of the radiation that would ultimately take their lives, the scientists and bureaucrats tasked with creating a plan to contain and clean up an event that had never occurred on this planet before, or the legion of liquidators tasked with carrying out said plan in the now most dangerous place on earth.

However, I believe the show’s main strength is how it portrays the Soviet government from top to bottom and what appears to be the culture at the time of downplaying setbacks to appease higher ups and to keep the true significance of the disaster ambiguous.  This is shown via cognitive dissonance of plant management refusing to believe that the reactor had exploded, despite the clear evidence that it had, and through the unwillingness of officials to call for the evacuation of the nearby city of Pripyat until 36 hours after the explosion, for fear of causing a panic. With this culture in place, it is easy to see how the events portrayed occurred and the struggle of the chief scientist Valery Legasov to prevent further catastrophe and get the truth out.

In all aspects of its production the show excels at bringing out the sense that you are really watching the events unfold in mid-1980’s Soviet Ukraine.

Chernobyl is a poignant reminder of the terrible outcomes that can arise from design decisions made to cut costs, covering up the flaws that arise from such decisions and a culture of workplace hierarchy and bullying. I think it is essential viewing as it demonstrates the critically high cost to the environment and humanity that can arise if any of the above reasons are left unchecked.

Chernobyl is available for streaming on Neon, Sky Go and Sky OnDemand.

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