Some thoughts on the HBO and Sky television series Chernobyl, and it’s relation to other disasters.

I move to Houston Texas in August 2010 following living for three years in Aberdeen. Just before moving to Houston there was a massive disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, known widely as Deepwater Horizon, but known initially within the industry as the Macondo disaster. The incident featured a huge drilling rig, the Deepwater Horizon, suffering a catastrophic blow-out which lead to an explosion that killed eleven men on board.

This happened in April, four month before I went to Texas, but the effects were huge. By the time I arrived the company I was working for were changing the way they worked based on the preliminary findings into the disaster, and certain employees knew folk who had worked for or on the rig. Even more interestingly, was that BP employees were told to avoid telling local people they worked for the company - it was their well prospect that had blown up, despite many other companies involved. BP would end up having to pay out billions and billions to the communities on the Gulf affected because the explosion and deaths were just the beginning - it was the oil rushing out of the well and the inability to stop this from flowing that caused the massive amount of environmental problems for the area.

In 2016 a film starring Mark Whalberg was released about the disaster. I suggested it’d be a hard watch because of my links to the disaster, but when I did see it it turned out I was worried for no reason. The film was terrible - not well directed and badly acted in my view, but the biggest issue was the way that it approached the subject material. It turned a disaster into a hero film of sorts. It felt more like an action film than a thriller, one that made many of the panic and chaotic scenes that were likely horrifying in real life into, instead, action set pieces.

So it goes.

When I heard that there was a Chernobyl television series on the way I assumed it was going to be the same, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Chernobyl revels in the facts (despite shuffling some of them around) and presents a lot of the show as a horror film, turning a terrifying and awful disaster into a non-sensationalised essay on what happens to people in disastrous consequences.

It makes me wonder what a show like it on Piper Alpha would be like. It gives me pause when thinking about the other disaster films about real events - ones that have turned the real events into big action pieces, and that now with the success of Chernobyl maybe more shows will take this tack.