The Salisbury Poisonings: TV drama revisits Novichok attack ‘horror’

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Scenes of streets in lockdown, health officials wearing PPE, dangerously contaminated surfaces and a battle with an invisible enemy are set to feature in a new TV drama from Sunday.

But the events depicted in BBC One’s The Salisbury Poisonings took place two years before the coronavirus pandemic began.

The three-part series is based on the events of March 2018, when the Wiltshire cathedral city faced one of the biggest threats to UK public health in recent years.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped and foaming at the mouth on a city centre bench, having been poisoned with the deadly nerve agent Novichok.

The government would later conclude it was an assassination attempt by two agents of Russian intelligence service the GRU.

It’s an extraordinary story, which Salisbury is still recovering from. But the dramatisation isn’t some kind of James Bond-style spy thriller.

The Skripals are only seen briefly at the beginning of the first episode, and the Russian suspects are not shown at all. Instead, it focuses on the response of the local community and health officials.

“We were drawn to the stories of the people who had to clean up this mess, rather than the people who made it,” says Declan Lawn, who co-wrote the script with Adam Patterson.

“It’s about ordinary people who have to pick up the pieces. We thought that’s where the drama was, where the emotion was. We didn’t want to do the obvious thing, which would have probably been an espionage drama.

“But I hope that what we’ve done is show that there are people out there who take a bullet for us, they are a hidden network of people who keep this society together.”

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