In less than three weeks, Chernobyl, a five-part Sky and HBO co-production (available in Australia via On Demand on Fox Showcase) has jumped to the top of the charts on IMDB, one of the world’s most authoritative film and TV internet databases.
Peaking with a score of 9.7 out of 10, Chernobyl has beaten out previous No.1, the 2016 David Attenborough documentary Planet Earth II.
Since its May 6 premiere it has also scored an approval rating of 96 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes.
In a May 27 editorial, the movie site said it “might be the most terrifying mini-series ever made”.
The bleak subject matter – and the fact that the audience already knows critical elements of the catastrophic real-life story – hasn’t turned away viewers.
Instead, the series “is gripping viewers across the UK and beyond for good reason”, Sky’s director of programs Zai Bennett said in a statement.
“The writing and production are second to none, and the story is both fascinating and utterly tragic. This is must-watch TV.”
Chernobyl has quickly gained traction with audiences globally, with many praising the show on Twitter as a “masterpiece”. Said one user, “Every episode shakes me to my core.”
Wrote another, “I’ve been viewing it as straight-up horror. Some of the scenes are so haunting and frightening.”
Chernobyl should sweep the next awards season “for sharing the pain and truth,” said a third.
Thread about @hbo's Chernobyl.
It is without exaggeration the best show on television. https://t.co/AdPOHjpcE1
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) May 26, 2019
Same. I'm so impressed with this show. I recall the fear that swept the world but the actual situation was far, far worse than we were made to understand. The human toll…the orders those poor people followed, knowing it meant certain death. Every episode shakes me to my core.
— Neurotica Provocatrix (@TbBrame) May 26, 2019
I am amazed by #ChernobylHBO. Captivating, horrifying, fascinating. @JaredHarris (who is always wonderful) has outdone himself and delivers a performance for the ages. I’m absolutely blown away. pic.twitter.com/sFqwBSqi03
— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) May 20, 2019
Written by Craig Mazin, who also wrote — somewhat jarringly— the Hangover film sequels, and directed by Johan Renck, who has helmed episodes of Breaking Bad (ranked No.5 on IMDB.com), Chernobyl is a dramatised account of events leading up to, during and after the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
According to the UN, the incident affected more than 3.5 million people and contaminated nearly 50,000 square kilometres of land.
Episodes follow the stories of those affected by the disaster and those charged with containing the fallout. And yes, it’s grim.
It’s “courageous” storytelling, said Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting) who plays Soviet deputy prime minister Boris Shcerbina, who is tasked by the Kremlin to lead the government commission into the tragedy.
“There was nothing sane about Chernobyl,” nuclear physicist Valery Legasov (played by The Crown and Mad Men’s Jared Harris) dictates into a tape recorder in the opening episode.
“What happened here, what happened after, even the good we did, all of it, madness.”
Taken as a piece of entertainment, the mini-series throws up elements of an action movie with heroes shown in almost real-time attempting to avert a disaster of near-apocalyptic proportions.
Events then turn to scenes so unimaginably dire that it feels more like you’re watching a science-fiction horror movie than a mini-series based on historical fact.
In the aftermath, the failure of officials and politicians to appropriately respond brings in elements that border on black comedy.
Oscar nominee Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves, Hilary and Jackie), whose character is an amalgam of scientists who worked on the situation, has called the series “a very interesting parable for our times,” in an interview with the BBC.
“The political truth is more convenient than what the science is saying. As a drama, I hope it will be very successful, but I hope it will have a powerful punch in terms of people waking up to what’s at stake.”