TV review: Chernobyl, Sky Atlantic (4 stars)

TV review: Chernobyl, Sky Atlantic

Still relevant tale about the 80s nuclear disaster

What is it about casting directors that they all want Jared Harris to hang himself? In Mad Men, his plummy ad exec Lane Pryce followed up one bungled suicide attempt by successfully choking on a rope in his office, while in Chernobyl, the opening scene features the strangulated demise of Harris' Soviet nuclear physicist, Valery Legasov. Sadly, the latter is the all-too true ending for a decent man who did his utmost to help stem the disastrous flow of fire and radiation which spewed from a dilapidated nuclear power plant in 1986 in the land that is now Ukraine.

This death occurs exactly two years to the moment when Chernobyl blew, a sign that Legasov's guilt proved too much for him to stand while those he deemed to be responsible for the mass negligence that led to ecological calamity and human catastrophe had been let off lightly. Scripted by Craig Mazin (whose former credits include The Hangover sequels and upcoming Charlie's Angels movie) and directed by Swedish music promo creator (his CV features everything from Bowie's 'Lazarus' music video to episodes of Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead), Harris is joined in a stellar cast by Stellan Skarsgård (River, Breaking the Waves), Emily Watson (Apple Tree Yard, Breaking the Waves) and Paul Ritter (Friday Night Dinner and No Offence, yet not Breaking the Waves).

If you weren't aware of the real-life Chernobyl story, you may not be on the edge of a seat during the five parts given that, well, we're still here (just about); but for anyone who lived through the permanent Cold War tension of that period, this will chime all-too readily. And the establishment lies, cover-ups and misinformation that seep through this drama are sadly just as relevant now as they were back in 1986.

Episodes watched: 1 & 2 of 5

Chernobyl starts on Sky Atlantic, Tue 7 May, 9pm.