This is who stars in Chernobyl - and how you can catch up on the show if you missed it

Friday, 14th June 2019, 4:02 pm
Updated Friday, 14th June 2019, 5:02 pm

It seems your next, post-Game of Thrones TV binge may have been found.

A little over two weeks ago, Chernobyl debuted on UK screens (7 May) on Sky Atlantic. In that short time, it's quickly become a huge talking point among television fans, and is even the highest rated show ever on IMDb.

With over 38,000 fans declaring their love for the show on the site, the programme has an average rating of 9.7, meaning it beats out Game of Thrones and even Breaking Bad in terms of popularity.

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So what is it about the show that makes it so good?

Here's everything you need to know about Chernobyl.

What is Chernobyl about?

A drama co-produced by HBO and Sky, Chernobyl follows the events of the nuclear disaster of 1986, and the monumental clean-up efforts that followed.

The catastrophic incident occurred at night, when uncontrolled reaction conditions were created during a test which simulated a station blackout power-failure.

As part of the test, emergency safety and power-regulating systems were intentionally turned off, and the inadvertent explosion ripped through the nuclear power plant.

The resultant fires took over a week to bring under control, and were so hot that they melted firefighters' boots.

The explosion sent plumes of radioactive materials into the atmosphere - equivalent to the amount released in the initial explosion - which rained down onto Western Europe and parts of the then-Soviet Union.

The Chernobyl disaster is one of only two classified as a level seven event (the maximum classification) - the other is the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.

(Photo: HBO)

The area remains radioactive to this day, and while it is officially safe to visit (it's unlikely you'd spend enough time in a radiated area for your health to be affected), there are strict guidelines visitors must follow to ensure their safety.

Who stars in it?

Chernobyl stars The Crown's Jared Harris as Valery Legasov, the Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy and part of the team who responded to the Chernobyl disaster.

Stellan Skarsgård is Boris Shcherbina, the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and head of the Bureau for Fuel and Energy, who is assigned to lead the Kremlin's commission on the disaster.

Emily Watson (Apple Tree Yard) plays Ulana Khomyuk - one of the series' few fictional characters - a scientist from the Institute for Nuclear Energy of the Academy of Sciences of the Byelorussian SSR, who becomes a member of the investigations team.

Watson told the BBC, “Khomyuk is an amalgam of the [real-life] scientists who worked on the situation. Her currency is she’s a brilliant scientist and if she can get the facts out, Legasov will recognise the truth.

“They [those in power] came close to annihilating the whole of Europe.”

(Photo: HBO)

Jessie Buckley (Taboo) is Lyudmilla Ignatenko, while Adam Nagaitis (Happy Valley) is her husband, fireman Vasily Ignatenko.

Paul Ritter (Cold Feet) plays Assistant Chief Engineer Anatoly Dyatlov, Sam Troughton (The Little Drummer Girl) is Aleksandr Akimov, and Robert Emms (Cleaning Up) plays Leonid Toptunov.

Why is it so good?

Reviewers have universally praised the show in the couple of weeks it's been out, focusing particularly on the programme's attention to detail and realism, which drives home the horror of the incident without ever glamorising it for TV.

Aside from the human story at its heart, Chernobyl has political diversions too, as top Kremlin officials scrambled together a PR plan that limits the incident's damage further afield.

"This isn't just a gripping five-part disaster film but an examination of Soviet news-speak in its late-stage death throes," said Newsday's Verne Gay.

"It's intelligent, at times intricate, explanatory journalism, especially about nuclear power technology."

"They've done a really great job depicting the emergency," says Eric Deggans from NPR.

"And it's this amped-up version of the debate that we have now about issues like global warming and our inability to agree on facts apart from political spin."

But it's not for the faint of heart - Chernobyl is notably bleak, and doesn't shy away from delivering the true extent of the pain caused to workers and those who lived in the shadow of the plant.

"Chernobyl is a thorough historical analysis," says Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic.

(Photo: HBO)

"A gruesome disaster epic replete with oozing blisters and the ominous rattle of Geiger counters."

And at the basest of levels, it's brilliantly shot.

"Director Johan Renck distils dread from every shot of drifting smoke, sifting particles and insidiously seeping waters," said the Financial Times' Suzy Feay.

How can I watch it?

The series is available to stream on NOW TV. There's even a seven day free trial for new customers.