The drama will span two 90-minute episodes, charting ‘The Elephant Man’s’ working-class beginnings in 19th-century Leicestershire, from the workhouse and a life of poverty, to a London human oddities show, where he met Dr Frederick Treves, who would go on to become a lifelong friend.
Merrick, who was exhibited as a freak show due to his physical deformities, has already achieved iconic status in pop culture and on the silver screen, following numerous cinematic portrayals.
David Bowie, Mark Hamill (Star Wars) and John Hurt (Alien) have all played Merrick, while more recently Bradley Cooper made his West End debut in the role.
Watch the famous “I am not an animal!” scene from the 1980 film The Elephant Man, starring John Hurt as Joseph Merrick and Anthony Hopkins as Dr Frederick Treves
Heaton, who will also star in Marvel’s 2019 film The New Mutants, said: “I’m extremely excited and honoured to be given the opportunity to take on the portrayal of Joseph Merrick in the BBC’s adaption of The Elephant Man.
“This is such a special role and a challenge for any actor. Joseph has such an incredible story and I can’t wait to go on this journey and bring him to life.”
The Elephant Man will be written by Moorside’s Neil McKay and directed by Mum’s Richard Laxton.
“Starting with his birth and ending with his death, McKay’s adaptation covers the true events of Merrick’s personal odyssey, his extreme courage, determination and human dignity despite challenges arising from his disability,” the BBC press release states.
“It explores the mysteries that surround Merrick and the man behind the myth.”
Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, said: “Neil’s scripts, chronicling Joseph’s life in its entirety, will shed new light on this story bringing greater depth and humanity to it than ever before.
“Charlie Heaton promises to be extraordinary in the lead role and we are excited to be telling this powerful, resonant story on BBC1.”
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news