Review: HBO’s Chernobyl

As Game Of Thrones came to an end, speculation circulated online as to how many subscribers would be canceling their subscriptions to the iconic premium cable network. Many posted stories that wondered if HBO could continue to grasp the attention of its viewers without the fan-favorite fantasy—especially after the heat it received over its final season. While many media outlets were clamoring over the fate of the characters of Westeros and HBO’s future, one five-episode miniseries was captivating its audience with a tragic and horrifying moment in history. That miniseries is Chernobyl.

A project created and written by Craig Mazin and directed entirely by Johan Renck (Breaking BadVikings), Chernobyl takes a deep, fact-based approach into the explosion of a Soviet nuclear reactor in 1986. The tale is told through the eyes of Valery Legasov (Jared Harris, Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of ShadowsThe Curious Case Of Benjamin Button), a Soviet inorganic chemist who has been selected as the chief of the commission containing and investigating the Chernobyl disaster. He is supervised by Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgard, The AvengersPirates Of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest)the vice-chairman of the Council of Ministers. The two, along with scientist Ulana Khomyuk (played by Emily Watson, Red Dragon, Punch-Drunk Love), piece together the chain of events that lead to one of the most horrific man-made disasters in the history of the world.

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The leading trio of Harris, Skarsgard, and Watson are invincible. The three veteran actors are exquisite in their delivery. While Harris shines as the devoted Russian hero who searches for the truth no matter where it leads, Skarsgard has the complex task of portraying a diplomat juggling his loyalty to the state and the horrors of a catastrophe it may have created. Watson—whose character was created by the writer as a representation of a number of scientists assigned to the commission—is steadfast in her delivery, containing a balance of “facts only” investigation while witnessing first-hand the effects of radiation poisoning on the nuclear disaster’s human victims. The three are immaculate in their performances, joined by an impassioned supporting cast of innocent victims just doing their job (like firemen arriving on the scene immediately after the explosion) and stubborn antagonists like Paul Ritter’s performance as Anatoly Dyatlov.

Writer Mazin’s teleplays provide a fact-based timeline of events intertwined with dramatized scenes that paint a human face on each scenario. From the opening scene of the series to the final moments of the finale, Mazin’s arch and dialogue for each chapter takes the viewer on a deeper path into the Soviet disaster. Paired with Mazin is the vision of director Renck, who provides the haunting images to go along with Mazin’s script. Between the heartbreak of a wife seeing her firefighter husband suffer from radiation to the iconic moment of Legasov delivering the details of his investigation to his superiors, Renck places the viewer on Soviet soil, shoulder to shoulder with those victimized by Soviet lies and cover-up.

Moreover, the decision to remove the element of Russian accents in the film paints the story as one that can be relatable to all viewers. Instead of listening to which actor performs a better Russian accent and scoffing at those that are weaker, the viewer can focus its attention fully on the content of the series. Additionally, the lack of accents reminds the audience that what occurred at Chernobyl could happen within any government on this planet. The one thing all governments, communist and capitalist, have in common is that they find ways to lie to the people they serve. And as Legasov puts it, “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid.”

This miniseries is required viewing in a time where lies seem to be gaining more credibility than the truth. Facts are pushed aside while misleading propaganda is embraced. Chernobyl reminds us why the truth is the only thing that matters and how lies can end up costing thousands of lives. Adding what is easily one of the best television miniseries to your queue is a wise decision and should be done ASAP.

All five episodes of Chernobyl are now streaming on the HBO GO and HBO NOW apps.

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