View on Now TV / Sky Atlantic

Five-star Review


It’s been a very long time since I watched anything on television that kept me captivated and made me want to binge watch it. I’d heard friends talking about Chernobyl, but as we have Virgin rather than Sky, I didn’t think that we would be able to watch it. Fortunately, we managed to secure a seven-day free pass to Now TV and so late on Sunday night, and as a reward after my exam marking, we sat down to watch Chernobyl. By Tuesday, we’d watched all five episodes. I’d strongly urge you to do the same. This is must-see television, as well as an education in what happens when governments seek to hide the truth.

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Chernobyl is a historical drama which tells the story of the catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the No. 4 nuclear reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR. The accident occurred during a safety test on a nuclear power reactor. The test was to aid the development of a safety procedure for keeping reactor cooling water circulating until the emergency generators could provide power. At the time the Ukraine was part of the Communist Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was eventually overthrown in 1991 and many believe that the lies told at Chernobyl were a catalyst for Glasnost, the opening-up of the Soviet media and ultimately the end of Communist rule.  I remember it well and I can recall my Mother deciding not to hang out her washing at the time for fear of it becoming contaminated by the fall-out of the accident. That remark sounds somewhat flippant, but it shows the extent to which people worldwide had such little understanding of the implications of the accident.

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The lead role of Valery Legasov, the deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute brought in to deal with the clean-up operation following the accident, is played by Jared Harris – George VI in The Crown.  The Kurchatov Institute in Moscow is Russia’s leading research and development institution in the field of nuclear energy.  Such a programme requires an understanding of the laws of physics and much of the explanations are done by the character of Legasov to his superior Boris Shcherbina, the Council of Ministers’ deputy chairman played by the Swedish actor, Stellan Skarsgård . The complicated scientific information is explained extremely well – even for someone as scientifically illiterate as me.  Emily Watson plays the fictional composite character, Ulana Khomyuk, a nuclear physicist from Minsk. Khomyuk represents the many scientists who put themselves in a lot of danger to help solve the situation.

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Everything about this series is sublime, from the script through to the cinematography and the illustrious supporting cast. The pace is fast and unyielding, and it is only after the last episode that you are finally free to consider the main message of the show: what is the true human cost of telling lies? Despite the catastrophic and apocalyptic risks caused by nucleur power, we witness the true cause of this accident: human flaws of arrogance, greed and an avoidance of costs and the truth. The little white lies we tell, erroneously believing that they will have no further repercussions. These lies grow and become such a vast and terrifying monster, that it ultimately acts to ignite and fuel the catastrophe.  Governments around the world played down the horror of what happened that night in order to safeguard their own nuclear power plans. Yet Legasov, had the inner-strength and moral integrity to tell the truth that no government wished to hear and in the process found his life and career destroyed.

We must never forget Chernobyl. The true number of lives lost has never been established but it is somewhere in the tens of thousands rather than the meagre thirty-plus admitted by the Soviet state. This is a very intelligent and thought-provoking drama series, and it should be compulsory viewing for all.

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