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(Image credit: Liam Daniel)

Jared Harris, Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård on the lessons to be learnt from their new Sky Atlantic drama about Chernobyl…

Jared Harris, Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård on the lessons to be learnt from their new Sky Atlantic drama about Chernobyl…

In 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant caused an ecological disaster and the loss of many lives, while arguably triggering the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This thrilling five-part docudrama re-creates the accident and the aftermath, leaping from disaster movie to action adventure to political thriller, all the while keeping an eye on the human dimensions as it follows the stories of characters including firefighters, scientists and locals caught up in the chaos.

Jared Harris, Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård lead a heavyweight cast in one of Sky Atlantic’s most impressive dramas to date. 

With Chernobyl obviously out of bounds for the filming, the producers opted for the most authentic option – its sister plant.

‘My character is a nuclear scientist who understands how bad the accident could get if they don’t get on top of it quickly,’ says Jared Harris, 57 (pictured top), who plays Valery Legasov, the man appointed by the Kremlin to investigate the accident and who soon realised the disaster’s magnitude.

‘Everyone knew it could happen, but no one had planned what to do if it did, so they have to figure out how to fix something unprecedented on the spot.’

Valery’s joined by Emily Watson’s character, fictional nuclear physicist Ulana Khomyuk, after she detects high levels of radiation in the air hundreds of miles away in Belarus.


Emily Watson plays Ulana Khomyuk, a fictional nuclear physicist

‘Ulana is smart, determined and works out the way they’re fighting the fire could trigger a secondary explosion,’ says Emily, 52.

‘She drives to Chernobyl and becomes a trusted part of the team there.

‘She’s a truth ninja who hits brick walls and takes on the system.’

The series is also a tribute to those who risked their lives to prevent many more from losing theirs.

They include the firefighters who cleaned radioactive material off the plant’s roof and the divers who released the water underneath the reactor core and stopped a thermal explosion.

‘The thing that stays with you from this story is their bravery,’ says Jared.

‘They understand they’re not going to survive, but they still had to do something about it.

‘The people paying the heaviest price are those who didn’t have anything to do with causing it.’



Stellan Skarsgård plays Boris Shcherbina, who was in charge of the clean-up

Memories of the disaster are fresh for Stellan Skarsgård, whose native Sweden was the first country outside the Soviet Union to become aware something was wrong. 

‘Because of weather conditions, we got quite a dose of radiation,’ recalls the actor, 67, who plays Boris Shcherbina, the high-ranking Communist Party official given the task of overseeing the clean-up.

‘For years, you couldn’t eat reindeer meat or mushrooms from the north.’

Making the drama has been an education for Jared.

‘I could now explain how a nuclear reactor works and why this one blew up,’ he says.

‘This is a cautionary tale of mismanagement.

‘A story that makes you question what you’re being told, and that’s a good thing.’

All five episodes are available as a box set on NOW TV from Tue 7 May

TV Times rating: ****