Cast your mind back to early May, when all that was on everyone’s mind and lips was Game Of Thrones – the biggest show of all time coming to its conclusion. Halfway through Season 8 and we had just seen the aftermath of the biggest battle ever put to screen, the next day, episode one of Chernobyl was released.
As the last three episodes of Game of Thrones aired, it was an increasing concern to fans how the conclusion was playing out. Eight years of character development was seemingly thrown out of the window with sub-par writing as the original source material ran out. In the end, the majority of fans would agree that the season was bad; a disappointing end to an epic journey. However, this isn’t a review on Game of Thrones.
HBO are possibly the biggest network in the world, having created some of the most iconic shows of the 21st Century: Westworld, Girls, Silicon Valley, Boardwalk Empire, True Blood, Six Feet Under, Big Little Lies, Sex and the City, Deadwood, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos, Veep, The Leftovers, The Wire and of course, Game of Thrones. Alongside this incredible list is the highest rated television show ever on IMDb (9.7/10) which currently holds 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. That show is Chernobyl.
Most people know the basic facts about Chernobyl, the real-life catastrophic nuclear disaster near the city of Pripyat in 1986. The disaster created the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone stretching to Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and beyond. It is one of the most significant nuclear disasters in history and one of the most tragic.
So what does Chernobyl show and why has it been so highly praised. Well, the show starts just seconds after the explosion from inside the power plant. We see the confusion, the denial, and the men who sacrifice their lives. As the show progresses, we follow our three protagonists Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård), and Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson) as they try to uncover the truth as to how and why the reactor exploded. These characters also attempt to prevent further disasters from the plant itself through modern day technology – but mainly through human sacrifice.
Throughout the five episodes we are met with outstanding performances from every actor. Chernobyl also boasts hauntingly beautiful cinematography showcasing the absolute horror of the raging fire from the reactor, the emptiness and isolation of a once vivid city, and the confined death traps of underneath and inside the plant. The story is paced incredibly well; each episode draws you in, increasing tension with expanding problems and conflicts.
The political intricacies of the real-life event and the people who experienced it are expertly put on screen. In some cases, the story and characters have been dramatised for impact, but this absolutely does not lower the standards. With every film and television show that adapts (or takes from real life accounts) real-life events, there is a form of added fiction. Some do this to such a degree that they unfortunately dismantle the reality of the event. But others rise to the challenge, creating masterpieces and using artistic liberties effectively. The most acclaimed films and most adored television shows have been adapted and changed to suit the filmmaker’s desires in storytelling.
For Chernobyl, it was a difficult show to create from accounts that were noted down at a time where they were still under Soviet control with the KGB at every corner. Lies were thrown around and facts and figures made up to suit whomever. However, the show does more than that; it shows us the men and women who sacrificed themselves, the men who lied and the people who told the truth, how authority is mistreated, the mistakes made and the human cost of it as well as the fall of an empire.
In overall, HBO have saved themselves, although maybe that’s a bit harsh as the last season of Game of Thrones hasn’t hurt them. Additionally, it isn’t entirely their fault but what Chernobyl has done isn’t just create a masterpiece of television, but it has dragged people away from taking down about Game of Thrones and got them praising arguably one of the best television shows in history.