HBO miniseries Chernobyl released in 2019, and with just five episodes, the makers managed to communicate the horrors of the nuclear disaster that led to the death and suffering of many who lived in the Pripyat area in Ukraine.
What is Chernobyl all about?
For those who haven’t seen the series, Chernobyl is based on the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster and the efforts that were made to save the neighbouring towns and people after the incident occurred.
The story opens with Valery Legasov, played by Jared Harris, as he hangs himself on the second anniversary of the incident. He does this after recording the tapes where he accuses superiors whose carelessness led to the catastrophe. Soon after this, we go into flashback mode to learn what really happened on that fateful night in 1986.
What works for Chernobyl?
Chernobyl does a great job at communicating the horrors of a nuclear disaster. We see stories of the firefighters who were present on the spot soon after the blast happened, and these stories are followed up until the end. The investment in these human stories on a micro level takes you inside the world of the show and makes you emotionally attached, even to the minor characters.
Chernobyl communicates the ill-effects of bureaucracy that were prevalent at the time in the Soviet Union. Unlike other disaster shows and movies that we have seen, Chernobyl examines the missteps of the authorities that made the disaster even bigger. We are told about the face-saving tactics that are used by the authorities from the start but to see the ground level effect of those bad decisions makes you understand that the higher-ups don’t always have the best interest of people in their heart.
The principal character here is Jared Harris’ Valery Legasov, who plays the unsung hero of the Chernobyl disaster. His desperation to contain the disaster whilst fighting against unnecessary red-tapism shows that heroes don’t magically gather the power to save cities. They have to sometimes give up their life for it, that too, without any credit.
Chernobyl is a bleak show that offers no ray of hope. You already know what’s going to happen at the end, but you watch five hours of television just to witness how it all happened. The investigative nature of the show allows you to learn more about the human dynamics that will always be the biggest variable, despite all the science.
While we have often seen that explaining science on screen can turn into a bit of drag, Chernobyl does that part well. Especially in the last episode of the series when Harris’ Legasov takes the stand and explains how the nuclear reactor exploded in the first place. The demonstrative sequence makes sure that all the events that happened in the first few minutes of the show are explained properly, even to those who might not understand scientific terms.
The casting of Chernobyl is quite spot on. Jarred Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Emily Watson, Paul Ritter and others do an excellent job here. The HBO series received multiple Emmys and Golden Globes. Harris and Skarsgard were universally praised for their performance.
Chernobyl is extremely engaging and keeps you hooked throughout, but the portions where it elaborates on the loss of life are hard to consume at once.
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Chernobyl is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
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