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HBO’s Chernobyl: A Chillingly Pertinent Tale Of Nuclear Disaster

Image by Денис Резник from Pixabay

On March 4th, as the beginnings of World War III raged in eastern Europe, there was a particularly scary development in Russia’s bloody ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The Russian army captured the largest nuclear power plant in Europe outside the city of Zaporizhzhia in the southeast of Ukraine. The plant was shelled by the encroaching Russian forces and a building at the complex was set ablaze overnight. The actions of the Russian army, recklessly attacking this power plant, have been heavily criticised by the US envoy, who stated that “the world narrowly averted nuclear catastrophe”, and the Ukrainian Foreign minister, who described the near-miss of a nuclear fallout that could have been “10 times worse than Chernobyl”.  It seems the Russian Federation has not learned the lessons of the former Soviet Union in understanding the grave implications of nuclear fallout. The USSR’s calamitous handling of the Chernobyl accident in 1986 not only almost destroyed half of Europe; it was one of the main factors in the collapse of the Soviet Union and with it the downfall of communism in Europe. All this referencing of Chernobyl in today’s media has put me in the mindset for re-watching the best miniseries of all time; HBO’s Chernobyl.

Chernobyl is a five-part miniseries that documents the people on the frontlines of the nuclear disaster, while also demonstrating the cover-up and ineptitude of the USSR in dealing with the large-scale crisis. Chernobyl was described by the Guardian as; “one of the best true-story miniseries ever made, capitalising on the curious fact that most people know hardly anything about the meltdown of a nuclear reactor”. Chernobyl is a terrifying real-life disaster movie that is spread over 5 hours and is tonally perfect in its recreation of the final years of the Soviet Union. The way in which the Soviet Union operated in the 80s seems scarily close to the way the Russian Federation operates today; the oppressive symptoms of a totalitarian society clearly remain. The story of Chernobyl displays these symptoms brilliantly: the disregard for human life, the atmosphere of fear amongst the population, the arrogance of the leaders, and the state’s obsession with controlling information. Chernobyl was critically acclaimed when it was released in 2019 and had such a strong impact on the cultural zeitgeist, that the Russian ministry of culture contributed 30 million RUB to the making of a Russian state TV version of Chernobyl, which implies the US was actually responsible for the Chernobyl disaster.

As well as being a fascinatingly well-written historical drama, Chernobyl is brilliantly acted. For Irish viewers, there are strong performances from Jessie Buckley and Barry Keoghan, as well as the main character of Valery Legasov being masterfully played by Jared Harris, son of the famous Irish actor Richard Harris. Fair warning; the subject matter is eerily pertinent and watching the terrifying story of nuclear fallout in Ukraine after what could have been a massive nuclear accident last night might be too much for some people. But if you’re a sick masochist who enjoys unnervingly relevant scares like me, the kind of person who watched Contagion during the first Covid lockdown, Chernobyl will be right up your alley. Also, you probably won’t sleep for two weeks when you understand what radiation poisoning does to the human body. Let’s just say, it ain’t pretty.

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