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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover



Starring: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, Jessie Buckley and Alex Ferns
Distributor: Acorn Media International
RRP: £29.99

5 036193 020261

Certificate: 15
Release Date: 29 July 2019

“What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies then we will no longer recognize the truth at all.”

Prof. Valery Legasov murmurs these words of introduction in the opening moments of Chernobyl, conceived and created by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renick in this Sky Atlantic masterwork under the aegis of HBO, now a sterling Blu-ray from Acorn Media and it is a thesis that never stops searing into our hearts and minds if we have the intellectual guts to stay the course. I encourage you to stay the course.

Legasov (Jared Harris whom I can’t praise enough) is the academic eye of the storm which began 1:23:45 AM, 26 April 1986 when the Ukrainian SSR RBMK class nuclear power plant lost its cool and ruptured, raining U 235 bullets onto an unsuspecting and ill prepared world, three million billion trillion of them. Bullets that will not stop firing for a hundred years, some not for fifty thousand years. Legasov is paired with high Party careerist, Deputy Chairman Boris Scherbina (Stellan Skarsgård in one of the most high valence performances of his fifty year career) reminding us the half life of isotopic talent is hardly worth considering in the cases of greatness. Completing a heroic troika is Ulam Khomyuk (Emily Watson) as a fictional physicist to stand in for the cadre of scientists who did the right thing. She, as always, is a treasury of dramatic soul.

How did this happen? Our three scientific detectives need to know. The problem is the Vladimir Lenin Power Station had flaws both technological and human. Human flaws blocked investigation of both. Business is war. Politics is crime.

The heroic efforts to put out the nuclear fire are contrasted with nearby populations watching the eerie glow and being told it’s only the harmless Cherenkov effect while children skip happily in the falling ashes like snow. Men who brave the Molochian bowels of the factory are cooked from inside out. The first spectators will also die. Especially the children. Ionising radiation tears the cellular structure apart, Legasov explains to the government administrative elites. Organs decompose, arteries and veins spill open like sieves. Khomyuk will add, even morphine can’t shut down the pain which is unimaginable. The terms cancer and aplastic anaemia seem almost mild after their etymology of fatality.

Heroic coal miners are sent in to tunnel under the reactor floor so all the liquid nitrogen in the USSR can be utilized for cooling. Their crew captain, Andrei Glukhov, (Alex Ferns) in a hymn to the working man, asks for fans because his tunnel workers are fainting in the heat. No fans, he’s told by a supercilious military commander, fans would kick up the ashes. Glukhov and his crew work naked. When challenged, he says they’re still wearing their hats. It’s one of the few moments of humour in the whole five hour epic.

Parents are warned this is not for ‘persons under 15’. With two degrees in education, I could not disagree more. Little kids need to see this mini-series. After all they’re being educated in school how nuclear energy is going to save us from fossil fuel damage to the climate, (no argument with that) how it’s clean, renewable and… safe. Greta Thunberg says so. Right? When I was a little kid, eons ago, the syllabus included ‘Our Friend the Atom’ and Walt Disney explained chain reaction with mouse traps and ping pong balls. If tender little minds are made to watch Chernobyl, questions will arise. "Mom, why are those people so sick looking? Why doesn’t anybody want to believe the scientist heroes?" And best of all, "Mom, why are those soldiers shooting all the dogs and cats? Even the puppies and kittens?"

Chernobyl is a filmic synecdoche for the generalized fault of humanity willing to lie for money. Even scientists. Recent exposes on rampant fakery of scientific data should be a learning experience for scientists of all ages. (

It’s not the fault of science but the heart and soul of scientists and the masters of statecraft who hire them and say: tell the people to keep their minds on their labour and leave the matters of state to the state. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars but in ourselves. And an academic consensus against the humanities.

There are those who will prate that this was a Russian problem. Forgetting, of course, Three Mile Island and Fukushima, lies, whether of omission or commission are still lies and Nemesis, the goddess of retribution, always comes after Hubris sooner or later. That includes: Progress is Our Most Important Product. "Every lie we tell," warns Legasov to a Party Tribunal, "means a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid."

Mikael Gorbachev said Chernobyl was the single reason for the downfall of the Soviet Union. Not President Ronald Reagan and not even Star Wars. There’s a teachable moment here.


John Huff

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