Chernobyl is a 2019 historical drama television miniseries that revolves around the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the cleanup efforts that followed. The series was created and written by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck. It features an ensemble cast led by Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, and Paul Ritter. The series was produced by HBO in the United States and Sky UK in the United Kingdom.
The five-part series premiered simultaneously in the United States on May 6, 2019, and in the United Kingdom on May 7. It received widespread critical acclaim for its cinematography, historical accuracy, performances, atmosphere, tone, screenplay, and musical score. At the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, it received nineteen nominations and won for Outstanding Limited Series, Outstanding Directing, and Outstanding Writing, while Harris, Skarsgård, and Watson received acting nominations. At the 77th Golden Globe Awards, the series won for Best Miniseries or Television Film and Skarsgård won for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film.
While the series was exhaustively researched, some liberties were taken for dramatic purposes. The release of each episode was accompanied by a podcast in which Mazin and NPR host Peter Sagal discuss these changes and the reasoning behind them. While critics, experts and witnesses have noted historical and factual discrepancies in the series, the creators’ attention to detail has been widely praised.
- Jared Harris as Valery Legasov, the deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute brought in to aid cleanup efforts.
- Stellan Skarsgård as Boris Shcherbina, a Council of Ministers’ deputy chairman.
- Emily Watson as Ulana Khomyuk, a nuclear physicist from Minsk. Khomyuk is a fictional composite character based on the many scientists who investigated the accident.
- Paul Ritter as Anatoly Dyatlov, the deputy chief engineer at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
- Jessie Buckley as Lyudmilla Ignatenko, the wife of Vasily Ignatenko.
- Adam Nagaitis as Vasily Ignatenko, a Pripyat firefighter and first responder to the Chernobyl fire.
- Con O’Neill as Viktor Bryukhanov, the manager of Chernobyl.
- Adrian Rawlins as Nikolai Fomin, the chief engineer at Chernobyl.
- Sam Troughton as Aleksandr Akimov, the night shift supervisor at Chernobyl.
- Robert Emms as Leonid Toptunov, the senior engineer at Chernobyl.
- David Dencik as Mikhail Gorbachev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
- Mark Lewis Jones as Vladimir Pikalov, the commander of the Soviet chemical forces.
- Alan Williams as Charkov, the KGB’s first deputy chairman.
- Alex Ferns as Andrei Glukhov, the mining crew chief.
- Ralph Ineson as Nikolai Tarakanov, the chief supervisor of the cleanup operation.
- Barry Keoghan as Pavel Gremov, a civilian liquidator draftee.
- Fares Fares as Bacho, a Georgian soldier and Soviet–Afghan War veteran who trains Pavel.
- Michael McElhatton as Andrei Stepashin, the prosecutor for the trial of Dyatlov, Bryukhanov, and Fomin.
- Adam Lundgren as Vyacheslav Brazhnik, the senior turbine operator at Chernobyl.
- Karl Davies as Viktor Proskuryakov, a senior reactor control engineer trainee at Chernobyl.
- Donald Sumpter as Zharkov, a Pripyat executive committee member.
- Billy Postlethwaite as Boris Stolyarchuk, the senior unit #4 control engineer at Chernobyl.
- Joshua Leese as Igor Kirschenbaum, a senior turbine control engineer at Chernobyl.
- Nadia Clifford as Svetlana Zinchenko, a doctor treating Vasily Ignatenko and others with radiation sickness.
- Jamie Sives as Anatoly Sitnikov, the deputy chief operational engineer at Chernobyl sent to inspect the exploded core.
- Baltasar Breki Samper as Alexei Ananenko, one of the volunteers who drained water in Chernobyl’s basement to prevent an explosion.
- Philip Barantini as Valeri Bezpalov, one of the volunteers who drained water in Chernobyl’s basement to prevent an explosion.
- Oscar Giese as Boris Baranov, one of the volunteers who drained water in Chernobyl’s basement to prevent an explosion.
- Douggie McMeekin as Aleksandr Yuvchenko, a senior engineer-mechanic on duty the night of the explosion.
- Michael Socha as Mikhail, a resident of Pripyat and father of a young baby who are both present on the bridge watching the fire.
Writer Craig Mazin began researching for the project in 2014, by reading books and government reports from inside and outside the Soviet Union. Mazin also interviewed nuclear scientists to learn how a reactor works, and former Soviet citizens to gain a better idea of the culture in 1986. Mazin also read several first-person accounts in order to bring additional authenticity to the story. He explained, “When you’re reading the personal stories of people who were there—people who lived near the plant, people who worked at the plant, people who were sent to Chernobyl as part of the effort to clean it up—in those individual accounts, that’s really where the story came alive”.
Mazin’s interest in creating the series originated when he decided to write something that addressed “how we’re struggling with the global war on the truth right now”. Another inspiration is that he knew Chernobyl exploded, but he did not know why. He explained, “I didn’t know why, and I thought there was this inexplicable gap in my knowledge … So, I began reading about it, just out of this very dry, intellectual curiosity, and what I discovered was that, while the story of the explosion is fascinating, and we make it really clear exactly why and how it happened, what really grabbed me and held me were the incredible stories of the human beings who lived through it, and who suffered and sacrificed to save the people that they loved, to save their countrymen and to save a continent, and continued to do so, against odds that were startling and kept getting worse. I was so moved by it. It was like I had discovered a war that people just hadn’t really depicted, and I became obsessed”. Mazin said that “The lesson of Chernobyl isn’t that modern nuclear power is dangerous. The lesson is that lying, arrogance, and suppression of criticism are dangerous”.
In preparation for the miniseries, Mazin visited the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Mazin made the decision in the early stages not to use Russian or Ukrainian accents, and instead, have the actors use their natural accents. Mazin explained, “We had an initial thought that we didn’t want to do the ‘Boris and Natasha’ clichéd accent because the Russian accent can turn comic very easily. At first, we thought that maybe we would have people do these sort of vaguely Eastern European accents—not really strong but noticeable. What we found very quickly is that actors will act accents. They will not act, they will act accents and we were losing everything about these people that we loved. Honestly, I think after maybe one or two auditions we said ‘Ok, new rule. We’re not doing that anymore'”. Mazin also did not cast any American actors, as that could potentially pull the audience out of the story.
On July 26, 2017, it was announced that HBO and Sky had given a series order to Chernobyl. It was HBO’s first co-production with Sky UK. The five-episode miniseries was written by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck. Mazin also served as an executive producer alongside Carolyn Strauss and Jane Featherstone, with Chris Fry and Renck acting as co-executive producers. On March 11, 2019, it was announced that the miniseries would premiere on May 6, 2019. On June 4, 2019, Craig Mazin made the original scripts of all episodes available for downloading as PDFs (see External links below).
A companion podcast for the miniseries had new episodes published as each TV episode aired on HBO. The podcast featured conversations between Mazin and host Peter Sagal including discussions of where the show was as true as possible to historical events and where events were consolidated or modified as part of artistic license.
May 6, 2019
- E01 – “1:23:45”
- E02 – “Please Remain Calm”
- E03 – “Open Wide, O Earth”
- E04 – “The Happiness of All Mankind”
- E05 – “Vichnaya Pamyat”
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