Chernobyl (2019 Miniseries) – Terrifyingly Good and Eerily Relevant

After the mix of bad writing and rushing to finish from Game of Thrones in comes HBO with a miniseries which has quickly risen to the highest rated TV series on imdb with a rating of 9.7/10 and getting rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. It has been acclaimed from West to Russia where faults are of course immediately going to be criticised, yet here there has been only a few teeny tiny ones that only those living in USSR in the 80s will know and recognise. Authenticity and reality of the tragedy is the aim of the miniseries, as it tells the story of this infamous disaster which effects us to this day, silently as well go through our day.

The story of course is about the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster that happened in 1986 April 26 at 1:23:45 AM in the Ukraine. There will be no story to be summarised here as it is a part of modern history and this is not fiction trying to grab you. This is reality. As we see the lives of the ones who dealt with the disaster firsthand, the people who unknowingly are effect with it, the ones who kept working to fix it and how the state itself responded with the disaster. Mind you this story is grim, terrifying and sometimes might make you want to take a break and watch something positive, but you will feel compelled to watch till the end of the episode since you realise the scope of the disaster from Chernobyl to Sweden.



The acting is beyond terrific. The characters, or properly the real people here (and one fictional and some compressed and a few invented for dramatic purposes) are all portrayed as real as possible as they react to the disaster. People you see for a moment will stay with you even thought they don’t stay with the world for long.

Jared Harris as Valery Legasov, one of the leading scientists and director of the Kurchatov Institute who knows the magnitude of the disaster does what he can do to help. The way he turns stronger as he keeps his humane nature at the front, while tackling with it and his moral compromises are a conflict worth seeing in Harris’ face as his subtle acting tells more than enough.

Stellan Skarsgård as Boris Legasov as the debut chairman of the Council of Ministers as well as many more titles relevant to his position is the foil to Legasov and the second half of the two top men who see the disaster and its effort firsthand and try to contain and tell the right story of it that the State can approve and share to the world. He is in his own words a career political. Skarsgård is once again cooly villainous at first, until his eyes open to the disaster and he joins forces with Legasov.

Emily Watson as Ulana Khomyuk is a composite character of all the scientists who knew about the Chernobyl accident and helped with the disaster in compiling evidence about the timeline leading up to it as well as the causes of it. She is smart and knows how to work the system if it means lives will be saved.

Jessie Buckley as Lyudmilla Ignatenko is the representation of the people of Pripyat living near the facility who were effected by the disaster. Her choices are both foolish and full of love, as we experience the life of the ordinary citizen (comrade?) and what the aftermath effects of the disaster were for the people, and especially women, were. Lyudmilla Ignatenko is/was a real person whose life has been taken from the book Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future or Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by the late acclaimed Nobel writer and journalist Svetlana Alexievich, where she chronicled the experiences of the many people from the first responders to ordinary people. I highly recommend the book and it has been used in the research of the stories of the people in the miniseries. I personally have read only a little of it in Finnish for a course on cultural history I did, but I am inclined to read it again because of this and knowing much more of the disaster because of this miniseries. Check it from your library, because it is worth reading as long as you have tissues beside you and are ready to at some point to look away from what is written and just decide to take a break back in to the real world, or at least make you feel ready to continue reading it after the anxiety has left you.

(Left: UK versions. Centre: US versions. Right: Finnish version)

(The miniseries has a podcast which I highly recommend, the creator Craig Mazin speaks about the show, what was left out, which were too unreal to be seen as real parts that did not make it in to the show, the research and all that. Highly recommend after watching each episode!)

In a world where politicians are denying climate change and companies around the world are denying their part in quickening it in the short term because their want for money when it won’t be much of use when the planet heats up and all mankind is destroyed sooner rather than later. In one scene Khomyuk is talking to a man-in-a-suit and after she tells her scientific findings he chooses not to believe her even though she is a qualified scientists while he isn’t. Indeed the whole miniseries is reminiscent of a horror movie and thought the horror might be at first the disaster itself, it is ultimately the human reasons that led to it as well as incompetence and denial after it happened which are as horrifying as the radiation sickness that we see happening. There is gore in the show, but it never indulges in it and it serves as a warning should anything like this happen again at this magnitude and this level of denial before anything is to be done. We can only hope and do better with the skills we have on those nuclear vessels that are in the world right now, but this show should be taken as a warning of what could easily happen. Especially at this point in time.


Thank you for reading! 

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