What is the cost of lies? – is the tagline of the series, and it is this question that became the leitmotif of the entire work on Chernobyl for writer and producer Craig Mazin. Mazin thoroughly, literally by the second, explores the events of the fateful night of April 26, 1986, the chain of erroneous decisions that led to the accident, the motivations of individual participants in the events and, of course, the atmosphere of secrecy and lies that became the real cause of the disaster. In the case of Chernobyl, the saying “You can see from the outside” is justified to the fullest – the view from the outside, unshaded by ideological stamps, turned out to be almost X-ray. It turns out that we ourselves did not fully understand what we went through then and did not realize what we and, by and large, the whole mankind managed to avoid. At the cost of lives and health, at the cost of losing part of the territory.
The Chernobyl series is an indictment against the USSR. As Craig Mazin himself says: “We wanted to show that all this is happening in Ukraine, which has suffered invasions from the West, genocide from the East and, if we exclude the last war in Donbass and the occupation of Crimea, Chernobyl was the last crime of the USSR against Ukraine. It is not surprising that the series has provoked such a strong reaction from Russian officials and viewers from that country. Russians frantically search for errors and artistic distortions, which are undoubtedly present here, and accuse its authors of slandering the fairest system in the world. Nevertheless, KGB documents declassified in Ukraine show that many disgusting deeds of the Soviet authorities were not even shown in the series. Russia is going to make its own TV series about Chernobyl, which, of course, will feature American spies and honest KGB men. God judge them.
In fact, Chernobyl is an incredibly realistic series. Many phrases in the series are real, documented words of the participants of the events. Many shots repeat newsreel footage literally one-to-one. People who remember the USSR well, recognize the furnishings, clothes, things of that time. My kitchen in 1986 was furnished almost the same as Prof. Legasov’s kitchen in Moscow. During a trip to Chernobyl in 1988, I wore exactly the same afghan as the liquidators in the TV series. I rode the same buses, wore the same clothes, drank water from the same machines, etc.
For the authenticity of the environment we should thank the Ukrainian company Radioaktive film, which helped to shoot in Kiev. In general, about 30% of the series was filmed in our country, most of the scenes not directly related to the station. The building of the KNU Biology Department played the building of the Republican Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus; the building of the National Library of Ukraine named after V. I. Vernadsky – the building of the library of Moscow State University; Bogdan Khmelnitsky, Tereshchenko and Khreshchatyk streets – Moscow; KPI library – the hotel “Pripyat”; Institute of Hydrobiology on Obolon – the city hospital of Pripyat; Troeshchina remained Troeshchina. Authentic cars in the movie were provided by the Ukrainian club of auto restorers. Some of the special effects for the series were done by the Ukrainian studio Postmodern Digital.
All scenes at the Chernobyl plant were filmed at the Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania, which was the same type of plant and also decommissioned. The role of Pripyat was played by a residential area of Vilnius built at the same time and according to the same project.
Most of the stories in the movie are absolutely real. The story of the fireman’s wife Lyudmila Ignatenko literally word for word repeats her story, recorded by Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich for the book “Chernobyl Prayer”. It is indeed a very scary story. The authors even had to soften some parts of it concerning the last stage of radiation sickness. The stories of the biorobots cleaning the roof of the reactor, the Chernobyl divers who saved Europe (two of the heroes are still alive), the miners, the liquidators, even the episode with the puppies is absolutely real and also softened. This is really a very poignant and strong series based on real facts.
Yes, there are enough artistic exaggerations and distortions in it. The same Legasov and Shcherbina arrived in Chernobyl by car, not by helicopter, so the scene with the dispute between the characters simply did not happen. Legasov and Shcherbina were not present at the trial of Dyatlov, Bryukhanov and Fomin, Shcherbina, although suffering from radiation sickness, but did not spit blood, so the touching scene between the characters and bright performance Legasov – this is also an artistic device. But Legasov did try to convey the truth about the accident and was ostracized in academia, he did suffer from severe depression and his suicide was the impetus for changes in the design of RBMK reactors. Ulyana Khomyuk is a completely fictional character, but it is a kind of generalized image of all scientists who took part in the liquidation of the accident.
There are a lot of little things in the series, which, if you want, you can pick on. Wild animals were killed not by enlisted soldiers, but by special teams of hunters. There was vodka in Chernobyl, of course, but not so openly. Miners disregarded safety measures and may have been able to work with bare torsos, but not completely naked. The address “comrade” was used on official occasions, but not as often as in the first series. The smoke from the reactor was not as dark. The helicopter went down months after the start of the cleanup, not on the first day. The graves of the firefighters were poured with concrete, not in the presence of relatives. Some of the shots of Soviet cities show traces of modern wall insulation and metal-plastic windows. And so on and so forth. But all this is nothing. The main thing is that Craig Mazin and Johan Renk managed to incredibly accurately convey the atmosphere of Chernobyl. People who took part in the liquidation of the consequences of the accident, people who were evacuated from Pripyat, say that the feeling of authenticity of what is happening is just off the scale.
If the series can be criticized for anything, it is for what is left behind the scenes. The events surrounding the Chernobyl accident would have sufficed for a couple more episodes. The authors did not show Legasov’s speech in Vienna; they completely omitted the most heinous crime of Soviet officials – May Day demonstrations in Kiev and Minsk; they did not show the evacuation of children from Kiev and the deserted city in the summer of 1986, where no more than half of the population remained. They did not show how “warmly” some Kiev citizens welcomed refugees from Pripyat, fleeing from them as if they had the plague. They kept silent about the wild scandals related to the loss of the queue for apartments, which were given to Chernobyl victims. They forgot about the looters who robbed houses in the Exclusion Zone and sold radioactive furniture and cars to unsuspecting citizens. They didn’t show the fake residents of Kiev, who were sent by the KGB to foreigners, the substitution of land samples, fake interviews, etc.
Chernobyl is a media product done at an incredible level. It is now the highest rated TV series on IMDb. With a 9.7/10 rating, it beats Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Wire, Planet Earth I/II, etc. (if you remove the obviously low ratings from the residents of Russia, the rating of the series will be even higher). The last series has an incredible rating of 10/10! I’m sure the series will win all Emmy Awards and BAFTAs for which it will be nominated.
Chernobyl has everything a good TV series should have. An incredible, based on true stories script. Fantastic music by Hildur Gudnadottir (Arrival, Sicario, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Mary Magdalene, the upcoming Joker), making radiation literally physically felt – a low humming grows as you approach the source of danger. There is fantastic acting, from the series stars Jared Harris (Valery Legasov), Stellan Skarsgård (Boris Shcherbina), Emily Watson (Ulyana Khomyuk), Paul Ritter (Anatoly Dyatlov), Jesse Buckley (Lyudmila Ignatenko) to the performers of minor roles and even the extras.
There is some incredible editing and timing work. The first episode shows a few hours of April 26, 1986, the second a few days after the accident, the third a few weeks, the fourth a few months. And in the fifth, the count at some points goes literally to seconds. Not only that, the scene on the roof of the reactor block lasts exactly 90 seconds, exactly how much time the biorobot soldiers had to drop radioactive pieces of graphite into the reactor. Fantastic work by the director and editor.
Craig Mazin and Johan Renck have done an incredible job – this is their finest hour, a chance to leave their names in cinematic history. The funny thing is that prior to Chernobyl, neither the writer nor the director of the series had created anything that could be singled out. Mazin had written scripts for second-rate comedies like Scary Movie 3/4 and The Hangover Part II/ Part III, Renk had done alternative hip-hop, music videos and standalone episodes for The Walking Dead and Vikings.
When watching Chernobyl, I highly recommend listening to The Chernobyl Podcast after each episode, where Craig Mazin talks about working on each episode, sources of information and inspiration, and what is true and what is artistic exaggeration in a given episode. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Podbay and other platforms. For those with limited English skills, the YouTube version, which has English subtitles, is recommended.
Chernobyl is a very heavy series, it is physically painful to watch some episodes. The first two episodes are generally one of the scariest horror movies I’ve seen. Here, too, there is a ruthless monster that kills people, not only that: the monster is invisible, which can not be stopped and destroyed. Only after watching the series do you begin to realize what our parents, those of them who understood what was happening, suffered 33 years ago. We are scared today, after the fact.
It is a series that should be annually broadcast on the central Ukrainian channels, so that every Ukrainian, first of all those who idealize the Soviet Union, even before living in it, understand what our country has been trying to escape from for the last 5 years. It should be remembered and never forgotten again.
A grandiose work by Craig Mazin and Johan Renk that every Ukrainian should watch. A real monument to the people who tried to convey the truth about the Chernobyl tragedy
Oppressive horror movie atmosphere; authenticity; realistic recreation of the events of the night of April 26, 1986; real stories of disaster victims and liquidators; fantastic acting; calibrated direction and editing; terrific soundtrack
Some important episodes for understanding the events of 1986 are omitted; some artistic distortions
Chernobyl series meaning
Genre historical drama
Creator Craig Mazin
Starring Jared Harris (Valery Legasov), Stellan Skarsgård (Boris Shcherbina), Emily Watson (Ulyana Khomyuk), Paul Ritter (Anatoly Dyatlov), Jesse Buckley (Lyudmila Ignatenko), Adam Nagaitis (Vasily Ignatenko), Con O’Neill (Viktor Bryukhanov), Adrian Rawlins (Nikolai Fomin), Sam Troton (Alexander Akimov), Robert Emms (Leonid Toptunov), David Densik (Mikhail Gorbachev), Mark Lewis Jones (Colonel General Vladimir Pikalov), Alan Williams (Charkov), Alex Furness (Andrei Glukhov), Ralph Aineson (Major General Nikolai Tarakanov), Barry Keoghan (Pavel), Fares Fares (Bacho) and others.
Channels HBO, Sky Atlantic
Year of release 2019