9pm, Sky Atlantic

A five-part dramatisation of the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Soviet Ukraine in April 1986 will not appeal to everyone. But if you have the chance to see Chernobyl, an extraordinary co-production between HBO and Sky, I would urge you to watch. Written by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck, it’s one of the great TV series of the year, harrowing, haunting and human in equal measure.

It begins with a sombre framing sequence, set in 1988, precisely two years after the explosion. In his modest flat, a man we will come to know as Valery Legaslov (Jared Harris) sits over a tape recorder, completing his final account of the catastrophe, and the truths he learned about the lies, politics, totalitarian bureaucracy and passing-the-buck that fuelled it.

From here, we flip back to the night of the calamity, to see that cycle of denial begin in the control room of the plant itself, even as the reactor core explodes. There’s an awful sequence pitched somewhere between George Orwell and Monty Python as the shift supervisor stubbornly refuses to accept what has happened – chiefly so he doesn’t have to tell his superiors – even as witnesses come to him, their skin already burning. In the neighbouring town of Pripyat, some of its 49,000 inhabitants line the streets to watch the strange towering fire dancing palely on the horizon, marvelling at its beautiful colours, unaware the gates of hell have opened. Meanwhile their children play among the first of the ashy debris, falling softly as snow.

It seems beside the point, but in moments like this, Chernobyl, with its spacey brutalist architecture and retro Soviet postcard design, looks fantastic. At the same time, it doesn’t shy from detailing the precise effects of radiation on the human body. In this, it is not as instantly, bluntly and unremittingly shocking as Britain’s two great speculative docu-dramas on the impact of nuclear attack – The War Game, from 1965, and Threads, from 1984 – but it is similarly affecting, because, of course, rather than positing nightmarishly plausible what-ifs like those, it reminds us: this happened. And, in countless ways, is still happening.

The series lays out how by following the work of Legaslov, an Atomic scientist who was called in to investigate the disaster on the ground, working under Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgard). A bullheaded veteran, Shcherbina is initially skeptical of Legaslov’s horrified fears, but as the truth becomes self-evident, the two form an uneasy alliance, aided by a nuclear physicist, Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson).

The latter is a character created for the series, representing a number of real scientists. As ever in the endlessly debatable genre of the fact-based drama, events have been condensed and composites created. And yet, handling its subject with serious care, Chernobyl exemplifies the power of this form to educate and give audiences pause to think, while not shirking the obligations it must also fulfil as drama, in order to keep as wide an audience as possible watching.

“Entertaining” is not the word, but the series is hypnotically compelling. It depicts incredible acts of bravery and sacrifice – and villainy – yet avoids the potential disaster movie pitfalls. Rather than histrionics and heroics, it is notable for a certain quietness, personified by Harris, one of the most routinely undervalued actors of his generation, and exceptional here. At the same time, the opening episodes generated a tension that pinned me into my chair.

Indeed, it’s hard to say whether the series will have more impact on viewers too young to remember Chernobyl, or those who will increasingly recall exactly what it was like back then, even here, watching the news, watching the weather reports, watching the rain clouds moving westward over Europe.



Line Of Duty

9pm, BBC One

It’s the feature-length series finale, and, even though every LOD regular will already have a firm opinion on who’s most likely to turn out to be this year’s biggest wrong’un, there are so many potential spoilers that it’s best just to say nothing about what happens tonight…Except to say that, after her brief, series-stealing debut last week, it’s a stone pleasure to get to see much more from Anna Maxwell Martin in her brilliantly judged turn as Detective Chief Superintendent Patricia Carmichael, the anti-corruption cop who polices the anti-corruption cops. Watching her grill her subjects in the interview room, with her thousand-yard stare and unamused smile, it was bugging me who she reminded me of, until I realised, of course, it was mid-1980s-era John Lydon. Meanwhile…Line Of Duty will return for (at least) another series.


Sex On Trial

10pm, Channel 4

This (badly-titled) three-part series considers some of the most recent high-profile cases of sexual assault from America’s college campuses, at a time when it is estimated that one in four female students in the US is sexually assaulted while at university. Tonight’s programme focuses on the 2018 case of Nikki Yovino, who claimed two college football players raped her, then later pled guilty to making false accusations against them. But the film raises troubling questions about the case, exploring how it played out both in legal terms, and in the media. In particular, it explores the question of consent in cases that can boil down to one person’s word against another, as well as the introduction of social media posts and private messaging as evidence – particularly timely, given recent developments around this issue in the UK.


Storyville: Brexit – Behind Closed Doors

9pm, BBC Four

For understandable reasons, they were still editing this two-part documentary right up until tonight’s broadcast, so no preview was available. But, assuming you have any appetite left for Brexit, it sounds unmissable. Shot over two years, Belgian director Lode Desmet’s film promises to tell the untold story from inside the EU camp, by getting up and close and personal with Guy Verhofstadt, the Brexit co-ordinator of the European parliament, and a man never shy of calling a pig’s ear a pig’s ear. Desmet perches fly-on-the-wall recording off-the-record conversations and reactions as Verhofstadt and his team go from respecting the UK negotiators, through frustration, into irritation, and ultimately ridicule as the British consistently fail to present either a united front or a clear goal. Part two follows tomorrow, and, indeed, for the rest of our lives.


Our Dementia Choir With Vicky McClure

8pm, BBC One

The concluding part of this wonderful film, following Vicky McClure’s mission to build a choir of singers experiencing different stages of dementia in her hometown of Nottingham, and to highlight the effects such activity can have. Tonight, she welcomes a tentative new member to the gang – former professional singer Maurice – and reveals their ultimate goal: a performance at the city’s Royal Concert Hall, before an audience of over 2,000. While the variously nervous singers and choirmaster Mark D-Lisser prepare to meet that challenge, McClure also visits a care home that offers specialised music therapy to residents whose dementia is more advanced, with striking results. Elsewhere, the scientists working with the project scan several of the choir’s singers, to explore how the damaged pathways in their brains react when experiencing music. The final performance of a well-chosen Beatles song is moving, to say the least.


The Society


If you took Lord Of The Flies, smashed it repeatedly into Lost until it lost its shape, and then strained the results through a thousand overwrought bitchy teenage angst American dramas, you’d be left with something like this new 10-part mystery. The plot sees the variously glossy young jocks, queens, sensitive types and rebels of a wealthy New England town leave one morning on a highschool trip, only for the buses to unexpectedly turn around and dump them back home that night. Except the kids aren’t home. They’re stranded in an eerie replica of their town, exact in every detail, except for two things: there’s no one else there; and there’s no way out. The question of what the hell’s going on is soon overshadowed by the question of how, and if, they will survive left to their own squabbling devices.