The Reel Review


In April 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Soviet-era Ukraine became one of the world’s worst man-made catastrophes, killing dozens and likely contaminating hundreds of thousands of people in the decades since. This five episode HBO mini-series starring Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson traces the screwups by employees and coverups by officials that allowed it to metastasize into such a colossal disaster.

Director Johan Renck and creator Craig Mazin, best known for his comedies Identity Thief, and The Hangover Part II and Part III, blend monochromatic grey visuals with a foreboding score to give a dour tone to their series, as plant workers and first responders literally fall apart just minutes after touching radioactive items at Chernobyl. It is gruesome.

The alarming speed of the spreading sickness gives a sense of urgency to a series that otherwise teeters on tediousness due to its repetition and odd story choices – namely, the bizarre inclusion of Watson’s fictional nuclear scientist who singlehandedly exposes the truth of the Chernobyl disaster. (Um, ok.) Despite that bit of Hollywood ridiculousness, the series is still compelling enough to warrant checking out.


Chernobyl was filmed in Lithuania, at the decommissioned Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (considered the sister plant to Chernobyl due to its similar appearance) and parts of Vilnius that resembled the Soviet-styled dormitory look of Pripyat, the still abandoned town near Chernobyl.

An abandoned school library in Pripyat, Ukraine, near Chernobyl.

• Chernobyl is one of only two nuclear energy accidents classified as a maximum, level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the other being the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.

• Icelandic music composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (Sicario, The Theory of Everything) was slated to score Chernobyl prior to his untimely death in February 2018 from an accidental drug overdose.


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