This new three-part series examines the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia
By Laura Rutkowski, Staff Writer
In 2018, the Skripals were found on a bench in Salisbury, England, after being poisoned with the deadly nerve agent Novichok. It was thought to be an assassination attempt – Sergei was a former Russian military officer and double agent for the UK’s intelligence services.
After being hospitalised, they made a miraculous recovery, but that’s not where the story ends. Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey was put on the case and became severely ill. Local woman Dawn Sturgess died after coming into contact with Novichok through a perfume bottle. Salisbury was suddenly at the centre of a public health crisis as leaders tried to prevent further contamination.
The Salisbury Poisonings recreates these unusual events and tells them through the perspective of the people who were there.
This is their story – here’s everything you need to know about it…
The actors play their roles sensitively
Anne-Marie Duff (Shameless) has never played a real person who’s still alive. That’s why she wanted to play Wiltshire’s director of public health Tracy Daszkiewicz “responsibly, kindly and truthfully”. She met with her to understand her experience of the events, as well as with her husband and son. “I got a sense of who she is as a person and details that weren’t in the script but can be useful for an actor to know, although it’s not an impersonation,” she said. Duff even wears Daszkiewicz’s exact coat – because the story is so recent, the coat is still available to buy.
Ripper Street’s MyAnna Buring plays Sturgess, who was portrayed in the media as a “a homeless addict who passed away because of her life choices.” She added, “And that’s simply not true. She was a complicated and wonderful human being who left behind an incredible family, and a partner, Charlie [Rowley], who was also poisoned. She should never have been dismissed like that, and we should not be dismissing her now.” Buring met with Sturgess’ parents, her daughter and with Rowley to prepare for the part.
Rafe Spall and Annabel Scholey as Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey and his wife Sarah.
Meeting Nick Bailey and his wife Sarah was really important to Rafe Spall (The War Of The Worlds), who stars as Nick. “You don’t want to pry, you don’t want to ask things that are too personal, but you want to get the balance right. I decided not to try to mirror his mannerisms or his vocal inflections, because I don’t think that’s that helpful,” Spall said. “The process of meeting him, for me, was out of respect and to say, “we’re here, we’re telling your story and we’re going to do it properly.””
It was approached like a documentary
This is the first major TV script for writers and documentary-makers Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn. They told Deadline that their research process was “identical” to how they would make a BBC documentary. They moved to Salisbury for more than a year, spending time with Daszkiewicz and Bailey.
Patterson and Lawn worked with the series’ journalistic consultant Caroline Bannock to find out who was best to interview and they went door-to-door to talk to people about the events. “People were more receptive because we didn’t have to film them or record their voices. They didn’t have the scary prospect of going on record,” Lawn said. Director Saul Dibb also has a background in documentaries, which is why The Salisbury Poisonings features a lot of handheld and on-the-shoulder camera shots.
The team paid close attention to detail
Anne-Marie Duff as Wiltshire’s director of public health Tracy Daszkiewicz.
As well as the cast meeting the real people they were playing, the costume, design and make-up crew also met them in their homes. Filming took place in the real locations where possible, including at the Skripals’ cul-de-sac and at the Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury. Artificial film lighting was not used in order to create the “most real, distinctive, yet oddly beautiful, feel,” said Dibb.
The show almost wasn’t finished in time
One of the final scenes was shot in early March, right before the COVID-19 outbreak. Executive producer Chris Carey told Deadline, “If we’d chosen a later date, we never would have been able to film it. It felt like we just got home before the tornado hit.”
The similarities between the situation back then in comparison to what’s going on right now is apparent. Don’t be shocked when you’re confronted with an eerie sense of déjà vu as a lockdown is enforced, the local economy is closed, contact testing and tracing is set up and Personal Protective Equipment is administered. “The answer, in the end, is that catastrophe forces us to look in the mirror,” said Patterson and Lawn, “and to confront who we really are.”
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When is the BBC’s The Salisbury Poisonings on TV?
The Salisbury Poisonings airs on BBC One (CH 101/108) across three consecutive nights at 9pm, with the first episode screening on Sunday June 14. It is also available for 30 days in Catch Up > Channels > BBC iPlayer.
The three-part series airs until Tuesday 16th June.
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