The Chernobyl story

Published June 13, 2019

Chernobyl nuclear reactor

You’d probably have to have been living under a rock to have missed that there was a docu-drama programme telling the story of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor disaster and what happened afterwards. It has been very well received and widely considered one of the best things on TV so far.

I’m not going to add too much to the overwhelming level of support this TV series has got, because I too thought it was incredible. It’s grim viewing, and you can’t really say you enjoyed it after seeing the whole thing, but there’s something about it that grabs you and won’t let you go. The acting is incredible, the visuals astounding and the story is something else.

The only two things I particularly want to highlight are the storytelling and the attention to detail.

I loved the way the story was structured. Instead of an A to B linear story, here is what happened and how it went wrong and what they did after, it was more carefully crafted than that. The first episode starts as the explosion happens, and you get to quite viscerally relive the immediate moments. Time then starts to expand slowly across the episodes, a day before the next one, a week before the next, etc. And then for the final episode you jump back in time to find out effectively whodunnit. It’s really well done, pulling at the emotions in all the right places without being manipulative.

The attention to detail is also to be commended. After watching the five episodes, I quite quickly consumed the accompanying podcast which features creator Craig Mazin discussing what he included, what he didn’t, where the details are accurate and where they veer from history somewhat. Obviously some artistic license has had to be used, and he’s open about merging characters together to try and keep from overwhelming the story. He also said that some of the shots even blew his mind because you can compare them side by side with a photograph from the time and they look so close to reality.

In that podcast, Mazin recommends the book Voices of Chernobyl from which he took a lot of inspiration. So of course I bought it. I’ll have watched the TV show, listened to the podcast and read the book, but still, don’t ask me how a nuclear reactor works please.

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