Chernobyl is the most compelling drama of its kind since The Day After in 1983.
Back then 100 million Americans looked on in horror as a nuclear disaster movie ripped through Missouri and Kansas.
With 21st Century filmmaking and storytelling techniques, Chernobyl is easily the superior product. Based around the catastrophic events of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of April 1986 this 5 part series hits overdrive in next to no time, when a distant “boom” disturbs the residents of Pripyat, near the Ukraine–Belarus border and fireman Vasily (Adam Nagaitis) is called to duty in the dead of night.
But engineers at the burning nuclear reactor are in denial about the magnitude of their unfolding disaster, despite the clear evidence and the crumbling mess around them.
“There is no core. The core exploded,” insists one worker.
“He’s in shock. Get him out of here,” replies the asst. chief engineer (Paul Ritter).
“What you’re saying is physically impossible. The core can’t explode. It has to be the tank,” agrees another.
Distressing scenes unfold as men run through the facility, their bodies deteriorating in minutes from the radiation exposure.
Vasily and firefighters on the scene wage war against the fire, in ignorance of their own doom by being so close. It’s hard to watch these scenes and not think they have all gone past the point of no return without even realising it…
Meanwhile management are awoken in the middle of the night, assembling in the safety of a bunker to evaluate the calamity, but Russian pride distorts information. When the question of evacuation of Pripyat’s 50,000 residents is raised, one senior committee member (Donald Sumpter) misguidedly stirs their loyalty to the State.
“They should be told to keep their minds on their labour. And leave matters of the State to the State. We seal off the city. No one leaves. Cut off the phone lines. Contain the spread of misinformation. Yes Comrades, we will all be rewarded for what we do here tonight. This is our moment to shine.”
Meanwhile the smoke wafts over the city and particles fall on the residents…..
Further afield the drama’s central character Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), the deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute, is summoned to advise Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård) the Council of Ministers’ deputy chairman. He warns President Gorbachev (David Dencik) that the situation is far more grim while a nuclear physicist from Minsk (Emily Watson) knows the disaster is being kept secret.
Chernobyl draws upon a big ensemble of British character actors and, accents aside, having so few “stars” adds to the credibility of this saga. Writer Craig Mazin (Identity Thief, The Hangover Part II) is unforgiving in his dramatisation of the bleakness of it all but cleverly contextualises it not just with Russian secrecy, but in highlighting the irony that Russian Communism exists for the betterment of all its people.
Director Johan Renck (Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead) roots us in the ’80s with drained colours and soulless architecture. I would have preferred an older actor than David Dencik as Gorbachev, but it is a minor quibble in an otherwise sensational miniseries.
Chernobyl is not an easy watch. Themes of sacrifice, blame and despair loom throughout. But you won’t be able to look away.
Chernobyl is now available at Foxtel On Demand and airs 8:30pm Wednesday June 12 on FOX Showcase.