The Chernobyl nuclear disaster has been labeled as one of the deadliest nuclear reactor accidents, in the history of the modern world. Of course, it goes without saying that negligence and bad decisions often prelude the catastrophes that are about to wreak havoc. The Chernobyl disaster was a prime candidate in this regard. HBO and the British network Sky come together to co-produce the eponymous mini-series, which goes into that fateful night and the events unfurled afterward, which snowballed into a disaster, never ever seen by mankind. Part fiction, part actual is how the televised series is conceptualized. A section of the media and the Russian government has already started discrediting the series, calling it west-driven hogwash. But the most important aspect of the series to lay out the most basic trait of human character – Lying. Just like Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK’ which investigates into the ‘Lone Gunman Theory’ behind John F Kennedy’s assassination,  HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’ is the counter lie to the official lie, that the-then Soviet Union government had pedaled.

The five-part series begins with the voice-over of a man, who identifies himself as Valery Legasov, who seems to be recording his version of the events, that had occurred 2 years prior to that day. We see him, going outside to hide a stash, which looks like critical pieces of evidence and eventually, we see the glimpse of his legs, kicking the proverbial bucket. At this grim note, it’s evident that the makers want the viewers to be ready for what follows next. No, not the ghastly sight of dead bodies, or the mortally wounded injured people or huge, earth-shattering explosions but the beginning of the end, starting with a single bad choice. We directly go to the events after the blast has occurred, the men scampering around in fear, clueless men without an iota of an idea of what needs to be done. The blast starts a fire, so firefighters are called upon. People, staying not so far from the nuclear plant, get curious about the yellow ball of flame, rising from the power plant. The oddity of the event, makes them go to a bridge to get a clear picture. As we see more, all these people get affected by the radiation that has engulfed the area, even thousands of miles across it, expanding to the boundaries of modern-day Ukraine and Belarus. Death, it seems, has an odd way of attracting people towards it. 

This disaster brings in three unique folks, to a common forum. Boris Shcherbina (Played by Stellen Skarsgard), the council of minister’s deputy chairman, Ulana Khomyuk (Played Emily Watson), a nuclear physicist from Minsk and Valery Legasov (Played by Jared Harris), whose accounts are being followed in the story. An uncomfortable alliance is forged between the three, as they dig deep into the investigation, as well as formulating a plan to stop the disaster from spreading. As time progresses, they realize, other than the human aspects of the disasters i.e. bad decision churning out of career aspiration, inconsistencies in following the right procedure, there was a state-driven mechanism which made this a disaster ready to happen. A critical flaw in the system was suppressed by the officials, which along with the other contributing factors, led to such an event. Along with the central event, the viewer gets to see the peripherals of the disaster, the after-effects of the radiation. One of them is a young woman of a firefighter who dies due to radiation exposure,  a man, entrusted with the order to kill animals, both stray and domestic, for stopping the containment of the radiation and countless folks, miners, soldiers, deep divers, who are forced to work in the contaminated region to stop further radiation spreading. These events, eerily magnify the scope of the disaster, i.e. the ultimate price that is paid by the lives of common, innocent people.

The series, directed by Johan Renck and conceptualized and written by Craig Mazin is a state of the art, content-rich product, led by actors par excellence. Jared Harris, who should be the single most deserving candidate of all people at the awards this season, is simply fabulous. Stellen Skarsgard matches him side by side, as we see two contrasting characters play off each other, in an actors duel. A scientist who seeks truth and a career politician, who can go to any extent to protect the state, these two actors are riveting. Emily Watson plays a nuclear physicist who takes this as a moral responsibility to unravel the facts, a role that has been based on many scientists, who tirelessly worked along to uncover the truth, is in one of her best outings. The stunning visuals of the destroyed nuclear plants, the empty houses, the leftover household items and the haunting melody that accompanies such scenes elevates the drama to a crescendo. 

As the show comes to an end, along with a contemplating Valery Legasov, we all are forced to agree – After all, what is the ultimate cost of the lies?


The Cinemawala Rating: 4/5

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