1986’s Chernobyl accident was the result of a flawed reactor design operated by inadequately-trained personnel. The disaster was the only accident in the history of commercial nuclear power in which radiation-related fatalities occurred. It’s estimated that the incident resulted in as many as 93,000 fatalities.
The HBO miniseries “Chernobyl” examines the domino effect of incompetence and cover-ups that led to the catastrophe. This vividly-empathic drama delivers, through gripping retelling, the how, the why, and the frightening aftermath of one of the twentieth century’s greatest technological calamity.
Jared Harris stars as Valery Legosov, a Soviet chemist who led the official government investigation into the causes of the disaster which directly resulted in the deaths of more than thirty emergency workers, with thousand others succumbing to cancer. Harris gives the finest performance of his career. The underrated actor anchors the film as the audience’s guide and conscience.
Stellan Skarsgard does fantastic work as Boris Shcherbina, the deputy head of the Soviet government, who resents Legasov questioning his authority, but eventually becomes an ally as Boris realizes Legasov knows much more than he does.
Chief engineer Anatoly Dyatlov, played by Paul Ritter, is a man who is rock solid in his mission to admit anything but the truth. Dyatlov actively deceives even his own employees, manipulating their very memories until it clouds their own recollection of the event.
The men in power prevented the truth from being told, and spoke only by way of denial and deceit. These were soulless men who thought nothing of the deaths of thousands of fellow countrymen, women, and children. Instead, the personal and professional humiliation were their true fears and, ultimately, the first tragedy.
Written by Craig Mazin and superbly directed by Johan Renck “Chernobyl” is brutal and real and completely unsettling. We bear witness to the workers who tried, and failed, to stop the leak, the spouse who puts herself into the belly of the beast as she desperately searches for her missing husband, a first-responder. The children playing outside and unaware of the deadly air they breathe. The experience of the effects of radiation on the dying is forced on the viewer, as is that of the mass graves of bodies buried in liquid asphalt. Finally, the bravery of the nuclear cleanup crews, firemen, soldiers, and coal miners who suffered the elements to help contain and rebuild, to insure this would never happen again.
“Chernobyl” is the story of how a government entirely failed to address the urgency of a globally-dangerous situation and the avoidable tragedy that followed. How very timely.