The Salisbury Poisonings: Drama about 2018 Novichok attack comes to BBC1

The poisoning case which killed one person and hospitalised four more including a Russian ex-spy is recalled in a BBC drama starring Anne-Marie Duff and Rafe Spall.

Published: 4 June 2020 - 4.20pm
REX/Shutterstock

Drama series The Salisbury Poisonings, based on the true events of the Novichok attack of 2018, is coming to the BBC this month.

The bizarre and tragic story - which led to one death and the hospitalisation of four other people including former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia - dominated the headlines, but this dramatisation of events goes behind the news story for a detailed look at what happened to everyone involved.

Starring Anne-Marie Duff and Rafe Spall, the series promises a fascinating take on what happened in Salisbury and the aftermath.

When is The Salisbury Poisonings on TV?

The three-part drama will air at 9pm over three consecutive nights from Sunday June 14 on BBC One.

The drama was previously announced in May 2019, and filming began at the end of October 2019. Watch the trailer below.

Who stars in The Salisbury Poisonings?

A strong cast has been signed up to sensitively tell one of the major news stories of 2018, and the lead actors portray real people who were at the heart of the incident.

Leading the cast are Anne-Marie Duff, top, who recently starred in His Dark Materials on the BBC, and Rafe Spall, who appeared in last year’s BBC adaptation of HG Wells' War of the Worlds.

Duff plays Tracy Daszkiewicz, the Director of Public Health of Wiltshire Council, while Spall, below, portrays Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who was contaminated during the course of his own work and who, like the Skripals, also ended up in a fight for his life.

Rafe Spall REX/Shutterstock

They’re joined by MyAnna Buring (The Witcher), Johnny Harris (This Is England ‘86), Mark Addy (Game of Thrones) and Annabel Scholey (The Split).

Buring plays Dawn Sturgess, who died of Novichok poisoning in July 2018 after being exposed to the nerve agent. Harris plays her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, who survived contamination. 

Addy plays Segei Skripal's neighbour Ross Cassidy, while Scholey plays Nick Bailey's wife Sarah.

Other cast members include Ron Cook, Stella Gonet, Faye McKeever, Kimberley Nixon and Duncan Pow.

What happened in Salisbury in 2018?

One of the strangest cases of 2018 took over the news in a completely unexpected location – the city of Salisbury.

The tale of Russian spies, nerve agents and an apparently state-approved attack could not have surfaced in a less likely place and came as a terrifying shock to the people who lived there.

In March 2018, a former Russian spy and his daughter were found seriously ill on a bench in the city centre, and it emerged that they had been poisoned by nerve agent Novichok.

Police cordon off an area of Salisbury REX/Shutterstock

Sergei Skripol, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were hospitalised for weeks. While they recovered, a huge international controversy rumbled on as the Russian government was accused of sanctioning the attack, something that they denied, accusing the UK of “Russiaphobia”.

Then-Prime Minister Theresa May expelled 23 Russian diplomats and their families from the UK, with 29 other countries following suit in support, and more stringent conditions for travel between Russia and the UK were put in place. Visits of ministers and the Royal Family to the FIFA World Cup in Russia that summer were also cancelled.

But while the diplomatic response unfolded, there was also the risk to the public to consider – the poisonings were linked to another incident in June 2018 when couple Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley fell ill after coming into contact with a contaminated perfume dispenser.

They were in nearby Amesbury and had no links to spies, but were unlucky enough to be poisoned by Novichok. Sturgess died in hospital in July.

Anyone who’d been in the pub or restaurant that the Skripols had visited on the day they were poisoned was advised to wash their clothes and possessions, a police officer who had been at the scene had to be treated, and 48 people were assessed in hospital.

The Skripols eventually recovered, although any long-term effects are not known and they had to be moved to a safe location.

The Salisbury Poisonings will tell the story not only of the events we saw in the news, but also the bravery, resilience and, in some cases, personal tragedy of the unsuspecting locals, who faced a situation of unimaginable horror so close to home.

Executive producer Laurence Bowen said: “This is a story we all think we know, but the truth of what people experienced and of the local response to the chemical attack is shocking and humbling in equal measure.”

The Salisbury Poisonings starts on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday June 14 and continues at the same time on Monday June 15 and Tuesday June 16.