“What is the cost of lies?” – Chernobyl (TV Review)

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Whether you loved, hated or were entirely indifferent to the finale season of Game of Thrones, the influence of that television show cannot be understated. For better or for worse it has permeated popular culture and helped revolutionize the way television shows are made. This isn’t the first influential show from the premium cable channel HBO. The channel has brought audiences such shows as Breaking BadThe SopranosLast Week Tonight with John Oliver and more but arguably none of those had the impact Game of Thrones has had. It has lead to some speculating as to HBO’s fate after the show’s conclusion.

As Game of Thrones came to an end, an HBO mini series came to defy expectations and become one of the best rated television series of all time: Chernobyl. The show follows the real life events surrounding the catastrophe that happened at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on April 1986 and the ensuing investigation. Over five episodes the disaster itself, the investigation and the horrifying aftermath is laid bare. The series focuses primarily on the investigation lead by Valery Legasov (played by Jared Harris), Ulana Khomyuk (played by Emily Watson) and Boris Shcherbina (played by Stellan Skarsgard) but each episode diverts some attention on different affected people including Lyudmilla Ignatenko (played by Jessie Buckley) whose husband fights the fire at Chernobyl, the higher ups of the government who try to cover everything up and the liquidators who risked their lives to prevent further radiation danger.

One of the biggest achievements of Chernobyl is in the way it shows a nuclear catastrophe without resorting to sensationalist tactics or irritating cliches. Creator & writer Craig Mazin achieves a wonderful balance in the narrative between the honest truth of the situation and the emotional costs the characters have to pay. This is further complimented by the director Johan Renck who takes the script and transforms it on to the screen in a near perfect manner. It would be unfair to place all credit on to Renck and Mazin: every aspect of Chernobyl is sublime. No shot is misplaced or runs on for too long, no edit decision derails the show and none of the actors fail to inhabit their characters with total authenticity.

Arguably an important part of historical tv shows and films is this: is the film historically accurate and/or authentic? Not every audience member is a stickler for accuracy but it’s preferable to have a story set in a certain historical event to have a degree of it or, at the very least, be authentic to the period it represents. Due to the way the Chernobyl disaster was and still is covered up to this day, it’s a tall order to expect a show or film based on it to be 100% accurate however Chernobyl is not only largely accurate but is incredibly authentic to it’s setting. Whilst the character of Ulana Khomyuk is fictional, she represents the numerous scientists who worked on Legasov’s investigation and risked their reputations and their freedom to uncover the truth. Everyone involved in the making of Chernobyl treat the subject with honesty and respect to those who suffered and sacrificed.

A powerful and unflinchingly honest piece of television, Chernobyl is a mini series that may well be one of the most important in television history. A difficult watch but almost certainly worth it.

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