The Salisbury Poisonings is a ‘very prescient virus horror’ about an ‘invisible enemy’ says director Saul Dibb

The drama was filmed and edited before the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK – but it seems very timely

The Salisbury Poisonings hazmat suits

When the team behind The Salisbury Poisonings gave their first interviews, it was mid-January 2020 and a pack of journalists was crowded into a windowless room with cups of tea to hear all about the BBC’s new Novichok drama.

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At the time, executive producer Laurence Bowen spoke about how strange and terrifying it must have been in Salisbury after the nerve agent attack: “that sense of going into lockdown, of going from on one moment a completely ordinary day to day middle England city, to having the army move in, people in hazmat suits moving in, military vehicles, question marks over what you could and couldn’t do.” And he was right – it sounded entirely surreal.

Five months later, we are living in a different world. Words like “lockdown” and “PPE” are part of our everyday vocabulary, and the question marks over what we can safely do are very big indeed. So with the drama set to premiere on BBC One on Sunday 14th June, journalists again gathered to hear from the stars and makers of The Salisbury Poisonings – this time on a Zoom call.

Addressing the question of how true-to-life the three-part factual drama actually is, screenwriter Adam Pattison explained: “There’s always push and pull, but I think accuracy has to be fundamental or else you’ve lost your way. Especially with something so recent, and where everyone is still alive to talk to.”

And as his co-writer Declan Lawn said, the core building blocks “like conflict and character arcs and progression” were already hardwired into the story: “It couldn’t have been any more dramatic.”

Anne-Marie Duff as Tracy in The Salisbury Poisonings
Anne-Marie Duff as Tracy in The Salisbury Poisonings (BBC)

Director Saul Dibb agreed, saying: “There was the authenticity which the script was shot through with, and those factual elements – but also it works as a narrative on a number of different levels.

“It’s partly a domestic drama, it’s partly a thriller, and it’s partly a very prescient virus horror! Of this invisible enemy that can kill us.”

Anne-Marie Duff – who stars as Wiltshire’s Director of Public Health, Tracy Daszkiewicz – also pointed out how her character’s wise decisions to shut local businesses and even the police station were unprecedented at the time, even if they seem less extreme nowadays.

“Well, you couldn’t make it up,” she said, addressing the timing of the drama’s broadcast.

“I mean, we were lucky as a government, weren’t we, because we’d already had the model of other countries locking down. But Tracy didn’t have that. She was coming at it from a completely blank canvas, and so it would seem absurd – now of course to us it seems perfectly logical. Of course you do. Of course you close your doors and windows and wear masks and – you know. But at that point it seemed that she was being thoroughly extreme and overreacting.”

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The Salisbury Poisonings airs on 14th, 15th and 16th June at 9pm on BBC One. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide