Todd Haynes's 2019 film Dark Waters was shown on both BBC Two and BBC Four last week – giving viewers two chances to watch Mark Ruffalo star in the tense legal thriller.


The film – which is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer – follows lawyer Robert Bilott as he launches a years-long case against chemical manufacturing giant DuPont to try to prove it had been contaminating the water supply of a small West Virginia town with toxic chemicals.

The film received positive reviews on its initial release and also led to a fall in DuPont's stock price – following which the company's bosses claimed the film "isn't an accurate portrayal of the facts".

So just how true to real events is Dark Waters? Read on for everything you need to know.

Is Dark Waters based on a true story?

Yes, the film takes its basis from real events – with Nathaniel Rich's New York Times article The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare serving as the source material for the script.

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In 2017, DuPont and its spin-off company Chemours agreed to pay $671 million to settle a lawsuit with roughly 3,550 people, after it was accused of contaminating the local water supply following a leak of a toxic chemical used to make Teflon – perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA or C-8 – from its plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

Both companies denied any wrongdoing, with DuPont saying it had stopped using C-8 in operations more than a decade ago. It has also defended its safety and environmental record, telling TIME. “We are leading the industry by supporting federal legislation and science-based regulatory efforts to address these chemicals. We also have announced a series of commitments around our limited use of PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substances)."

Although DuPont has previously questioned the accuracy of unspecified elements of Dark Waters, for the most part the film appears to be a faithful retelling of the high-profile legal battle.

Indeed, even some of the more outlandish moments – such as the detail that DuPont offered its staff Teflon-laced cigarettes as a human experiment in the 1960s, or the scene in which farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) points his gun at a DuPont helicopter (recounted in Bilott's book Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle Against DuPont, via Slate) – are based on real events.

That said, there are some moments that were fabricated for the film, and a number of the characters such as DuPont executive Phil Donnelly (played by Victor Garber) are not actually real people, instead most likely composites drawn from several figures.

The scene in which Bilott's boss Tom Terp (Tim Robbins) threatens him after he has shared his findings with the Environmental Protection Agency is reportedly an embellishment, while there is also no evidence to suggest that evidence went missing from Tennant's home – with these plot points seemingly brought in for dramatic effect.

However, the main crux of the story – the serious effects the contaminated water had on the population of West Virginia and Ohio and Bilott's tenacious attempts to hold DuPont to account – is accurate.

Dark Waters is currently available to watch on BBC iPlayer. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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