Chernobyl is a five-part historical miniseries which was aired on Sky Atlantic in May 2019. Created and written by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck, the HBO series documents the events around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of April 1986 and the unprecedented cleanup efforts that followed. Largely focusing on the memories of Pripyat locals, as told by Svetlana Alexievich in her book, Voices from Chernobyl, the series reveals how and why one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history happened, as well as the Soviet cover-up that followed.
A masterfully created series with stunning cinematography, a haunting score, and phenomenal performances from an ensemble cast, Chernobyl is a brilliant dramatisation of a harrowing historical event.
It’s a gripping series that largely benefits from its brilliant pacing, not letting the sense of danger and dread fade away as it builds up to a final episode that has a lot to say. Most of all, it’s incredibly insightful that’s polished with historical accuracy, giving tonnes of in-depth detail about a catastrophe that we all know something about. It’s truly eye-opening, relaying the events on the day and the months that followed, all the while exploring the very human side to the story and, subsequently, the cost of ignorance that allowed such an error to occur.
Writer Craig Mazin does an amazing job of cleverly dissecting a heavily detailed story with so many people involved. Whether or not certain scenes happened exactly as they play out on-screen, he successfully finds different ways to make the complex details and scientific explanations easy to follow. He also includes a lot of emotion and even a pinch of humour to make the characters more engaging, highlighting a whole range of human traits, from how brave we can be to stand up against a government to reveal the truth, to how destructive we can be (both intentionally and not).
It’s a really compelling portrait painted with many faces to highlight just how many people’s lives this affected. Jared Harris and Emily Watson lead the series impeccably well, whilst Stellan Skarsgård and Paul Ritter also give great performances. But what I love most about this series is that you will recognise somebody in almost every scene. There’s Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose), Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk), Michael Socha (This Is England), Mark Lewis Jones (The Accident), Robert Emms (Happy Valley), Karl Davies (Emmerdale), Alex Ferns (Eastenders), and a host of Game of Thrones stars including Donald Sumpter, James Cosmo, Ralph Ineson, Josef Altin, Michael McElhatton, and Laura Elphinstone.
The inclusion of so many talented and recognisable – largely British actors – make the story feel even more personable, helping you to connect with even the smallest of character. I did find it difficult to place a lot of people on my first watch, as the first episode gives you a brief introduction into a lot of characters as the rest of the series then takes its time to go into more depth. But a second viewing of this series is definitely worthwhile as you can recognise everybody much more easily, even with their skin melting off, to really understand the progression of the story.
There is some gore and there’s definitely a feeling of horror to the series, but it’s mostly so terrifying because of the how remarkable and hard-hitting this unbelievably true story is. And as the credits roll, you learn even more about the true story with a series of additional facts, which still manage to shock even when you thought you had heard it all.