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Chernobyl: 2019's most frightening drama




They stand outside, smiling. They stand, in the middle of night, and watch a radiant blue haze light the night sky, as if a scoop of the moon had fallen and glowed in embracing its long-departed home. They stand, smoking and drinking, speculating. They stand as particles float down from the sky, nestling in hair, on clothes, on skin. They stand, smiling, as death rains down.


The first we see of Chernobyl (after a hint of how it destroys survivors) is when it is already too late, the explosion at the nuclear plant's Number Four reactor witnessed through a window in nearby Pripyat, the blast wave waking residents and rousing firefighters into action. The locals gaze at the blue light, the firefighters face its source; a scene of unimaginable danger and physical harm.


Craig Mazin's dramatisation will be one of the most frightening works of television of this year, from the frontline horror of the plant workers staring directly into the raging core of a nuclear reactor, to the political dogma which denies what has happened is what has happened. In this era of 'fake news' - a term used to describe truths so that they are stripped of their credibility - the sight of fundamentalist party members and engineers debunking eyewitness accounts of the explosion sets the teeth on edge.


It is rare for TV to convey the magnitude of such a catastrophe and the sacrifice which followed; it's rare for TV to make you consider that all that you know was close to never existing. Europe, Ukraine, and Russia were all 48 hours away from untold devastation - the scene where this doomsday scenario is explained will rattle around the brain for days after.


In the week of a UN report warning of mass extinction and climate change activism dominating the news, Chernobyl could not have arrived at a more relevant juncture. Scientists Ulana Konmyuk (Emily Watson) and Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) fight both the crisis and the voluntary ignorance of political leaders in a one-party system where admissions of infallibility are tantamount to treason. Denial, we can infer, is a state we can only live in for so long.

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