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Chernobyl - First episode review

Chernobyl

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

THERE’S harrowing and then there’s Chernobyl. A co-production between Sky and HBO, this five part drama recreates the 1986 disaster at the nuclear power station in what is now Ukraine. It is sobering viewing and one that carries plenty of contemporary relevance.

The intention was always to show how the Chernobyl disaster was man-made. What the first episode unquestionably proved was that you can never under-estimate the power of governments to NOT act in the best interests of its people.

In Chernobyl, power station chiefs are seen urging their comrades to put their trust in the state and believe when told that they have nothing to worry about. This, in spite of repeated eyewitness accounts from hapless [and frequently vomiting] power station workers who have witnessed the devastation first-hand.

Everything about the first episode of Chernobyl proved unsettling. Its opening scene, set two years to the minute before the disaster, saw nuclear physicist and state apparatchik turned whistle blower Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) recalling the duplicity and cover-ups at hand before taking his own life.

It then wasted no time in thrusting viewers into the disaster itself – a sleeping couple awoken by the sound of the explosion and staring out of their window at the ominous red glow and blue-ish light rising into the night sky.

Thereafter it bounced between the on-site efforts to contain the fire and the surrounding community, watching on unaware of the dangers they were exposing themselves to.

There will be few more haunting images on TV this year than the sight of babies being cradled in their parents’ arms as the ash-like radiation falls silently upon them like snow – or children treating it as such by frolicking in it. Director Johan Renck allowed his camera to linger in slow motion, one of the few times the episode slowed down, for extra chills.

Further away, the men in suits schemed and plotted to play down the extent of the disaster. They ordered the town to be sealed off, with its residents not allowed to leave, belittled fellow scientists as idiots for daring to suggest the core had gone and began the process of scapegoating and damage limitation.

The scenes in question expertly invoked a sense of anger and disdain from those watching, especially when offset against the suffering of those on the frontline, whose injuries were immediate and horrific.

Renck didn’t shy away from the horrors of radiation exposure. But he didn’t sensationalise either.
This was grim stuff, authentically portrayed. And the cast was uniformly excellent.

It was sometimes difficult to watch as people repeatedly put themselves in harm’s way, only to learn quickly and brutally that they had done so. But therein lay the first episode’s undeniable brilliance… it was utterly compelling in an eye-opening, truth-exposing kind of way. You couldn’t take your eyes off it.

In that regard, Chernobyl is already essential viewing and one that should educate and inform any future policies on the use of nuclear power. It’s an all too real cautionary tale.

Chernobyl airs on Sky Atlantic in the UK, every Tuesday night from 9pm.

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