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HBO Miniseries on ‘Chernobyl’ Shows the Terror of 1986

Nancy Bilyeau

The upcoming miniseries on HBO dramatizing the story of one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history — the April 26, 1986 explosion at the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine — is gaining attention with the release of a trailer that many viewers find terrifying and is the talk of the Internet.

In the miniseries, Jared Harris (George VI in The Crown) plays Valery Legasov, a real-life prominent Soviet scientist who was chief of the commission investigating the Chernobyl disaster.

“A just world is a sane world and there was nothing sane about Chernobyl,” says Jared Harris in the trailer. After a series of apocalyptic scenes flash by and officials are frantically trying to figure out how to put out the roaring, lethal radioactive fire, Harris says, “You are dealing with something that has never happened on this planet before.”

Jared Harris. Photo by Liam Daniel/HBO

Jared Harris. Photo by Liam Daniel/HBO

As part of the response team, Valery Legasov was one of the first to grasp the scope of the unparalleled disaster that occurred. Stellan Skarsgård plays Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Boris Shcherbina, who is assigned by the Kremlin to lead the government commission on Chernobyl in the hours immediately following the accident.

Emily Watson portrays Ulana Khomyuk, a Soviet nuclear physicist committed to solving the mystery of what led to the Chernobyl disaster.

Chernobyl was filmed on location in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Emily Watson. Photo by Liam Daniel/HBO

Emily Watson. Photo by Liam Daniel/HBO

The five installments of the series were directed by Johan Renck (who directed the Sundance TV series The Last Panthers and the first two installments of Bloodline) and will air on consecutive Mondays beginning at the start of May.

Said Indiwire, “As evidenced in this trailer, Chernobyl is set at the title facility in Pripyat during the final years of the Soviet Union…Even in carefully selected images from the series, it supports what series writer and creator Craig Mazin has said about Chernobyl being a real-life horror story.”

Jessie Buckley. Photo by Liam Daniel/HBO

Jessie Buckley. Photo by Liam Daniel/HBO

“Nobody would see it as a privilege to spend five months in a dilapidated nuclear plant, unless it was to play in a script like this by Craig Mazin, work with a director like Johan Renck, collaborate with a producer like Jane Featherstone, jam with an actor like Jared Harris and finally be at the feet of Emily Watson whom I have been missing for some twenty years,” Skarsgård told Deadline.

Chernobyl reunites Skarsgård and Watson who starred together in 1996 Cannes Film Festival winner Breaking the Waves.

Stellan Skarsgård. Photo by Liam Daniel/HBO

Stellan Skarsgård. Photo by Liam Daniel/HBO

“This is a significant piece of work and I’m honored to be part of it. I can’t wait to get started with this amazing group of people, and am especially excited to be working with Stellan again,” Watson said in the same interview.

More than 30 people died within days from acute radiation, about 4,000 died later of related cancers, and experts say the surrounding area won’t be fit for human habitation for 20,000 years.

Nonetheless, a thriving tourist business has popped up to cater to people who want to see Chernobyl and the surrounding area.

The amusement park of Pripyat. It was to be opened for the first time on May 1, 1986 in time for the May Day celebrations but these plans were scuttled on April 26th, when the Chernobyl disaster occurred a few kilometers away

The amusement park of Pripyat. It was to be opened for the first time on May 1, 1986 in time for the May Day celebrations but these plans were scuttled on April 26th, when the Chernobyl disaster occurred a few kilometers away

Shortly after the reactor explosion at Chernobyl, Soviet authorities blamed human error and the man overseeing the nuclear plant was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor. Subsequently, design flaws were said to have primarily caused the meltdown.

Read another story from us: Chernobyl Revealed – Rare Drone Footage of the Decayed and Abandoned Nuclear City

“The trailer is effective in its attempts to scare the daylights out of those watching on two fronts, beginning with the Chernobyl disaster itself, the immense threat of radioactive fallout, and, of course, the bureaucratic red tape that was soon to follow,” reported Screenrant. “It’s a frightening glimpse into an equally terrifying disaster, one given the even more gravity by the performances of both Harris and Skarsgård.”


Nancy Bilyeau, a former staff editor at Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and InStyle, has written a trilogy of historical thrillers for Touchstone Books. Her new book, The Blue, is a spy story set in the 18th-century porcelain world. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com

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