A young woman is up at night dealing with a bout of morning sickness. Her firefighter husband stays in bed. Outside her kitchen window, we see a distant explosion. It’s the perfect start for a disaster movie. Like any film or series about a fictional disaster, you would expect brave firefighters, dedicated scientists and reluctant government officials. We get it all in HBO’s new mini-series, Chernobyl, but this is no fictional tale. Chernobyl happened, an unprecedented event that almost destroyed Eastern Europe and still leaves land uninhabitable. The series is the gripping true story of what happened in the aftermath of this disaster and is better than any big-budget disaster film.
A fascinating look at what took place at the nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union of 1986, this five-part mini-series, produced and written by Craig Mazin, delivers intelligent scripts and riveting performances. Each episode builds on the true events that began on an April night. From the initial confusion after the explosion in the first episode to the final episode where we learn what caused the explosion, we get scenes of firefighters unaware that they are fighting a fire at an open nuclear reactor core, government officials denying the reality of the situation and scientists understanding the true scale of the disaster.
We meet Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), the scientist who is the first to understand what the plant manager, Dyatlov (Paul Ritter), refuses to accept. The government official tasked by Mikhail Gorbachev to check things out and fix it, Boris Shcherbina (Skellan Skarsgård), expects a problem easily solvable through his brand of bullying but quickly learns that in this case, the scientist is right and millions of people could die if this problem isn’t solved.
Harris and Skarsgård give captivating performances. The astounding scenes of Dyatlov’s determination to ignore the evidence that surrounds him as he barks orders at all the stunned workers feel unbelievable yet ring true.
The series gives us radiation sickness in all its horrors. It shows us the role the KGB had in stifling the truth. It gives us the heroes who did what was needed to save lives. Chernobyl also builds a mystery. Why did the explosion happen that night? Chernobyl proves it is one of the great mini-series as it tackles the mystery of this disaster.