This is the true story and the real characters behind BBC One's new drama, The Salisbury Poisonings

Monday, 15th June 2020, 11:41 am
Updated Monday, 15th June 2020, 11:42 am
(Photo: BBC)

Recently, the BBC aired The Salisbury Poisonings, a three part drama about the Wiltshire town that hit the headlines when former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a toxic nerve agent in 2018.

Starring the likes of Ann-Marie Duff, Rafe Spall, MyAnna Buring and Johnny Harris, the dramatic retelling is written by former BBC journalist Adam Patterson and director Declan Lawn, who met when making a Panorama film together.

All three episodes of The Salisbury Poisonings are available to stream on iPlayer.

But is it a true story?

Here’s everything you need to know:

Is The Salisbury Poisonings a true story?

Yes.

In 2018, the Wiltshire town hit the headlines when former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned.

They both eventually recovered, but a local woman, Dawn Sturgess, lost her life after she became contaminated by a nerve agent in a perfume bottle found by her boyfriend.

In the opening episode, the Skripals are discovered unconscious on a park bench and taken to hospital. While doctors try to identify the source of their illness, DS Nick Bailey (Spall) decides to investigate the Skripals’ home, but soon after returning to work he begins to feel ill.

Meanwhile, Tracy Daszkiewicz, Director of Public Health for Wiltshire Council, was called into an emergency meeting, where she starts to realise the scale of the potential crisis, while Dawn Sturgess (Buring) is annoyed at herself for missing a trip to the playground with her daughter.

All of these things really happened.

Who is Tracy Daszkiewicz?

(Photo: BBC)

The drama shifts focus away from the Skripals, and on to more untold strands of the story.

Writers Patterson and Lawn told Yorkshire Post: “At the heart of our retelling of the events that occurred in Salisbury in 2018, is a story about the internal mechanisms of a public health crisis response.

“The first thing that really made us sit up and go, ‘okay, there probably is a drama in this’, was when we met Tracy Daszkiewicz,” says Lawn.

“We had to force a lot of stuff out of her, about sleeping in her office and doing things where it was just a whole side of the response that we didn’t have a clue about,” recalls Patterson.

“It was the human cost for her that we learned about, over time, as we got to know her – the impact on her own family, and that level of sacrifice that isn’t often seen when representing public service.”

Anne-Marie Duff, who plays Daszkiewicz, is glad the drama puts the spotlight back on Salisbury and the seriousness of the incident, which she fears have been overshadowed by an infamous interview with two men claiming to be suspects in the case, who said they had visited the city to see its cathedral.

(Photo: BBC)

She told Yorkshire Post: “If you talk to anyone about what happened in Salisbury, they’ll immediately refer to (and sometimes laugh at) the cathedral comments.

“You forget about the collateral damage in terms of human lives and how severe it was. And it certainly wasn’t a joke or something to laugh about if you live there.”

The actress sat down with Daszkiewicz, and they spoke in-depth about her experiences.

“I was blown away by her story, and by her as a woman when we got to meet her,” she elaborates.

Duff was drawn to the role because of the lack of recognition Daszkiewicz was given in the press coverage around the poisonings.

“There could be lots of reasons for that, the obvious one being gender, but also just perhaps she comes from this other world; she’s not a bureaucrat, she’s not part of that club.”

Who was Dawn Sturgess?

Dawn Sturgess was a local woman who lost her life after she became contaminated by a nerve agent in a perfume bottle found by her boyfriend.

Sturgess – who was 44 when she died – is portrayed by Sweden-born MyAnna Buring, who notes the mother-of-three “was very much dismissed by most media outlets as being a sort-of homeless drug addict”.

But “this was a woman who could not be dismissed, just with a simple phrase,” reflects the actress.

“She was not a homeless drug addict; she was a real human being who had real issues that a lot of people in this country face and go through,” Buring told Yorkshire Post.

“She came from an incredibly warm, beautiful, loving family but, yeah, she was struggling with demons. She was a three-dimensional human being, and we lost her.”

Ahead of the role, Buring met Dawn’s parents, Stan and Caroline, her sister Claire, and her daughter Gracie, who was 11 when her mother died.

However, she decided that she would just follow the script, rather than worry about being exactly like Dawn.

All three episodes of The Salisbury Poisonings are available to stream on iPlayer