Salisbury – Novichok spy drama plays out on Clevedon streets.

It was a horrifying headline such as this, that confronted the Salisbury community on 4th March 2018 and sent shockwaves throughout the country, indeed the world, and sparked a major international diplomatic crisis between the UK and Russia.  Peace in Salisbury came to an end as their town was invaded by the police, the media, military personnel and eventually the clean-up teams in their bio-hazard suits, who set about decontaminating the areas of the city believed to have been affected.

The impact on the friendly, welcoming people of this magnificent, historic city, home to one of the UK’s most iconic medieval buildings, of ageless beauty, was absolutely devastating. The events of this time must still be very raw and it says a lot about the people of Salisbury that they have been able to engage with the BBC in telling their story; perhaps telling the story of how ordinary people and public service employees reacted to a crisis on their doorstep will in some way be therapeutic.  

To quote the writers Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn, it is a nutshell:

‘”…………an extraordinary story full of ordinary heroes, the tale of how a community responded to an inconceivable event.”

It is an unbelievable story! A retired Russian GRU double-agent Sergei Skripal resident of Salisbury and Yulia his daughter who was visiting from Moscow were poisoned with a lethal novichok nerve-agent, unique to Russia, which was applied to the front-door handle of his house. The pair collapsed a few hours later on a bench at The Maltings Shopping Centre in the city centre.

The combined and intense efforts of the emergency services, the defence research establishment at nearby Porton Down, and the staff at Salisbury General Hospital, meant the Skripals survived what was intended to be a lethal attack, as did Nick Bailey, a police officer who visited the house soon afterwards.

Four months later, mother of three, Dawn Sturgess, a woman completely unconnected with the case, died after apparently trying some perfume, picked up from a bin by her partner, which turned out to be Novichok in disguise. Her partner Charlie Rowley survived but has some very serious health complications.

Not unsurprisingly, the story has inspired a new, three part, hour long factual drama, commissioned by the BBC called ‘Salisbury’. As yet, there is no  confirmed release date although it  is expected to air in the latter half of 2019 or early 2020, perhaps to coincide with the two year anniversary of the Novichok poisonings.

The production company who have just started to film, are Dancing Ledge of Delhi Crime fame. Most of the filming will take place in and around Bristol, Weston Super-Mare, London and………Clevedon hence the army of support vehicles currently situated on the Salthouse Field.

Laurence Bowen, chief executive of Dancing Ledge Productions, said:

“This is the story of the poisonings in Salisbury that hasn’t been told – the story of a community living through the real life horror of an invisible threat that could and did kill without warning, a story of tragedy but also of resilience, and pride. It’s a real privilege to be involved in its telling.”

Piers Wenger, controller of BBC Drama, commented:

“BBC Two plugs into contemporary issues and dilemmas of the modern world, and has a rich history of exploring true stories from different perspectives in a sensitive and considered way. The poisonings in Salisbury shocked the nation and had a huge impact on an unsuspecting community. This drama will capture the bravery, resilience and personal experience of the local people who faced a situation of unimaginable horror, so close to home.”

McMafia writers Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn said:

We feel extremely privileged to be telling this story. Extensive, meticulous research is at the heart of how we like to work and we’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of the people of Salisbury who have opened up to us over the past few months and continue to do so.”

The drama is being directed by Saul Dibb, whose previous work includes The Line of Beauty, The Duchess and Bullet Boy.

The story is being told by a very impressive cast headed up by television and stage actress, Anne-Marie Duff who rose to fame playing Fiona Gallagher in Channel 4’s comedy-drama classic Shameless and is playing Ma Costa in His Dark Materials which starts tonight on BBC1 at 8.00pm. Anne Marie has also starred in films such as Nowhere Boy, where she played John Lennon’s mum Julia, and Suffragettes.

Anne – Marie is joined by:

Rafe Spall who starred in the bittersweet comedy Denmark and The War of the Worlds. Rafe is son of the very wonderful Timothy Spall.

Mark Addy who played King Robert Baratheon in Game of Thrones and Mr Bakewell in the  film Downton Abbey.

Although the BBC hasn’t revealed their roles, they have  announced that  Britannia’s Annabel Scholey, This is England’s Johnny Harris and Ripper Street’s MyAnna Burin are also part of the drama.

Additional castings include Ron Cook (Hot Fuzz), Stella Gonet (Holby City), Faye McKeever (Trollied), Kimberley Nixon (Fresh Meat) and Duncan Pow (Black Mirror’s Hated in the Nation).

 Lucy Richer, Executive Producer for the BBC, said:

 “To have such a distinguished cast taking part in the drama is testament to the strength and quality of Adam and Declan’s scripts. We are honoured to be telling this astonishing, powerful and moving story on the BBC.”

The events of March 2018 were an unimaginable horror in the lives of the Salisbury community and I am sure everyone watched in  disbelief as the  story unfolded. How does a community overcome such a tragedy?

How delighted they must have been when this wonderful community was chosen by the ‘Sunday Times Best Places To Live’ guide in 2019 because it “remains a divinely attractive and welcoming place”.

Sunday Times home editor Helen Davies said: “Salisbury has shown real collective spirit in dealing with a chemical attack that saw the cathedral city become the centre of world headlines for all the wrong reasons….. there are still parts of the city where the clean-up continues, but to bounce back and be even stronger is a sure sign of a very special community, which is one of the reasons we have chosen Salisbury as the best place to live in Britain in 2019.”

I’m sure this incredulous story of a community who had their world turned upside down will be difficult viewing, but I’m equally sure it will be an inspirational story which strikes at the heart of what it means to be human.

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