Chernobyl: A masterful portrayal of one of the worst man-made disasters in history

Review overview

Acting 9
Script 8.5
Direction 9.5
Soundtrack 8.5
Visual Effects 8


8.7 Excellent! Chernobyl ended as the highest audience rated series in the history, and there is a good reason why.

Chernobyl ended as the highest audience rated series in the history (according to hundred thousand votes on IMDb), and there is a good reason why.

The five part mini-series traces the incidents before, during and after the nuclear catastrophe that took place at Chernobyl in April 1986. Writer Craig Mazin and director Johan Renck, built a narrative which gradually builds unease, rather than throwing in shocking twists in the storytelling. The air ruffling through the trees, the rising smoke, the glowing sky, shining particles in the air, all help in slowly building up to the horrifying scale of the disaster.

The series portrays the incomprehensibility of the scale of the invisible enemy of radiation. People refuse to evacuate villages in the affected areas. They say they didn’t leave during the war, then why leave now? Because they cannot perceive the long term danger. With 454 active plants across the world. Chernobyl pays homage to the 600,000 people, many of whom, without ever being named or recognized, can legitimately be credited for saving the lives of millions of people.

Credit: IMDb

The haunting background score which at times replicates a siren and sometimes the dosimeter’s crackling sound, becomes your nemesis. It makes one feel uneasy and makes the invisible ripples of the radiation seem tangible.

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The casting is brilliantly done, not only because most of the actors look like doppelgangers of the real people they are playing, but also because they are extremely good at their given roles. Yet there are certain things which could have been executed better. For instance, when Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård) asks Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) to explain how a nuclear reactor works, and Legasov explains that for the audience to understand; a bit too convenient. And the role of Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson), she is almost everywhere, one moment at Minsk, she comes uninvited at Chernobyl to help, even finds herself a place at the meeting with the highest ministers, and another moment at the Moscow hospital. Though her character was to represent all the scientists who helped during the disaster, again it seems to convenient for the plot. And it gives an illusion that this massive catastrophe was managed entirely by three people.

Credit: IMDb

Mazin employs both fact and fiction in a measured manner to tell the story of Chernobyl. There are stories of soldiers, evacuators and those tasked with killing the pets and other animals in the villages affected by the radiation. There are the 3828 liquidators who are sent to the roof of the reactor to clear the radioactive debris by hand, because all the available rovers would malfunction due to the radiation. Then there are the miners who dig a tunnel under the plant, forced to work naked because of the unbearable heat. The series opens up some serious questions: ethical, moral and political. How far are we willing to steep in order to maintain a facade of correctness? What is correct and incorrect in the face of a disaster of this magnitude? How many human lives are willing to risk in order to save millions of people? Amidst a lot of darkness, chaos and dejection, Boris Shcherbina pauses to watch a tiny green caterpillar climb up his thumb. It is almost a prophetic moment in itself – as if even within the unimaginable horror and tragedy, nature has the power to rejuvenate. “Ahhh,” he sighs. “It’s beautiful.”

Tags : ChernobylHBO
Sneha Pan

The author Sneha Pan

I drink tea and I know things.

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