There are a couple of very good drama documentaries about the Chernobyl disaster, but until now these productions have through necessity been limited in both time and scope. However, it always felt like there was an opportunity for someone to come along and give the story the stage its scale of tragedy deserved. More than 30 years after the disaster such a program was finally commissioned and brought to our screens by HBO. Over five gripping episodes, totalling over 6 hours in duration, the full story unfolded for the first time on the small screen.
Leonid Tuptinov and Alex Akimov turning on valves in a futile attempt to cool an already destroyed reactor
The series centred on the efforts of three characters involved in the clean-up. While of course Boris Shcherbina and Valery Legasov were real life characters, the third, Ulana Khomyuk, was what is known as a "composite character" i.e. she represented the voices of the many scientists who worked alongside Legasov. Some people may not like that, but Emily Watson did a great job so I can live with it - meant you could focus on fewer people to make sure the story remained the real focus.
Boris Shcherbina, Ulana Khomyuk and Valery Legasov.
For those who know what happened on that fateful morning back in April 1986, there will be no surprises. However, I'd suspect the vast majority of people will have heard of Chernobyl without really knowing what lies beneath the headline. For those people especially this series will be an excellent introduction to the events triggered by the pressing of the AZ-5 button in control room 4.
Viktor Bryukhanov, Anatoly Dyatlov and Nikolai Fomin
Based on my knowledge of events I'd say there is very little inventing of scenes for dramatic effect. One or two, but not many. The only thing I'd like to find out more about is whether Legasov really was as honest and forthright at the trial of the three men pictured above. It's doubtful that there are records of the trial available to read so perhaps we'll never know. My suspicion would be he was as depicted, and if so he was a very brave man for doing so.
HBO Television Series Links
HBO Chernobyl - The HBO page containing all you need to know about the making of the series. Even includes links to all 5 scripts.