Two years on from the Novichok attack in Salisbury on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and it devastating, fatal fallout in the small English cathedral city, the BBC has dramatised the events in three-part series The Salisbury Poisonings starring Anne-Marie Duff, Rafe Spall and MyAnna Buring.
You’ll probably be wondering if it was actually filmed in Salisbury – and so were we. So here are the places you’ll see on screen, and how real archive footage was blended with locations in Salisbury and beyond:
Did they shoot the BBC drama in Salisbury itself?
Yes and no! As executive producer Laurence Bowen told press: “For obvious reasons we didn’t want to recreate the entire military shutdown of Salisbury, in Salisbury.” So some scenes were shot in Salisbury – but other locations were used for the big set-piece scenes recreating the Novichok attack.
Director Saul Dibb said: “We took a lot of time discussing about where we would and wouldn’t shoot things. The first point is that things needed to sort of feel real and very authentic, very truthful, but we knew there were huge sensitivities around shooting things in Salisbury. For the people of Salisbury, it’s a very recent trauma for them.
“So we did shoot some things in Salisbury, but we drew a line essentially with – you know, there was nothing that was going to be a recreation of things like Hazmat suits, or the army, or those kinds of things on the streets of Salisbury. So we set a lot of the early pre-poisoning stuff in Salisbury. And then we meticulously looked for matches of things, like the Skripals’ house.”
Bowen added: “To be honest, I think most people didn’t really realise that we were there. When went to Salisbury we went with a kind of guerrilla – small film unit, we took just a tiny group of people, and the actors were a tiny crew, and we were in and out.”
You’ll also see plenty of real-life footage in the drama. “Archive runs throughout it, and every time you see archive, that’s real archive, it’s not a recreation,” Dibb explained. “And we didn’t want to recreate any of the archive, we wanted that to be absolutely real and to be saying throughout the whole thing, this is important obviously and in this particular town, this. happened. These things happened. But we do segue to obviously this other – our story with all of our different actors and there had to be a seamless thing from one thing to the other.”
Where else did they film The Salisbury Poisonings?
The production team used The Bottle Yard Studios in Bristol as a base, and mainly filmed around the city and the West Country – including locations in Malmesbury, Clevedon and Weston Super Mare. Filming took place between October and December 2019 (well before the coronavirus pandemic hit and brought all TV productions to a halt).
In Bristol, there was large-scale filming at Castle Park, which stood in for the park where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were discovered unconscious on a bench after being exposed to the Novichok nerve agent. The production team built market stalls along the east side of the park to recreate The Maltings, a shopping area in Salisbury which had to be evacuated when the major decontamination operation began.
Exterior shots of Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess’s home were filmed in King Street, while interior scenes were filmed at Devon House in Whitehall. And a house on Watchill Avenue in Highridge provided the location for the Dawn Sturgess’s parents’ house.
Bristol Cathedral stood in for the interior of Salisbury Cathedral, and scenes set inside Salisbury District Hospital were filmed at the Soundwell Centre. In addition, St Nicholas Street was used for the army’s quarantine area, and Canon’s Way and Circular Road were used for emergency vehicle driving scenes.
In a statement, Bristol Film Office’s Natalie Moore said: “This was a highly sensitive project that the production team were committed to handling carefully and respectfully. With their main base at The Bottle Yard, it was our role to help source the most suitable Bristol areas to double for Salisbury locations that were central to the telling of this story. The Castle Park and King Street filming days were incredibly sobering and handled with great discretion, despite requiring numerous police, fire and ambulance vehicles, actors, scientists and investigators in full hazmat suits and policemen conducting fingertip searches.
“We were pleased to help the production acquire the space and privacy they needed to re-enact these dramatic events that could not be filmed in Salisbury itself out of respect for local communities.”
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.