Sometimes the scariest horrors are the real ones, which is exactly what HBO‘s new miniseries, Chernobyl, covers frighteningly well. While the 1986 disaster itself was a catastrophic event, the new dramatisation offers a fascinating window into the egos that made it so much worse.
If you’re unfamiliar with the accident, it was caused by an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ukraine which left its reactor core exposed, spreading huge amounts of radiation throughout not only surrounding areas but over large parts of the continent. In terms of nuclear disasters, it’s considered the worst in history.
Beyond just seeing it all unfold, which is terrifying in and of itself, watching those in positions of power, whether it was direct supervisors or government representatives, attempting to downplay the situation is equal parts fascinating and infuriating. The fact that this actually fucking happened only compounds the horror of radiation burns and high cancer risks often seen or talked about throughout the show.
Radiation, even at lethal levels, cannot be seen by the naked eye, so conveying its existence on film can be a tricky task. Cellist and composer for the series, Hildur Guðnadóttir, cleverly uses the score to help with this, creating an eerie, almost Geiger Counter-esque vibe to some of the heavier scenes.
The real-life heroes – plant workers, firefighters, soldiers etc – who died due to extremely high doses of radiation had to be buried in lead coffins with their lids soldered shut to prevent their irradiated bodies from ending up in the water table.
Given nuclear theory isn’t exactly simple, Chernobyl does an excellent job of explaining what’s going on without dumbing it down too far or making you feel like a complete idiot. It hits a middle ground which suits the series well and allows the human element to shine through, which is really what it’s all about.
Seeing the interactions between those responsible, those trying to clean up the mess, and emergency services dealing with the aftermath is a harrowing affair set against the stifled political backdrop of the Soviet Union.
The series was created and written by Craig Mazin, who also wrote the Hangover movies, and stars Stellan Skarsgård (who is almost unrecognisable, just quietly), Emily Watson, Jared Harris, Jessie Buckley, and more.
If you’re looking for something to help ease the pain of Game of Thrones‘ lacklustre final season, you should definitely give this a look.Image: HBO