Review: BBC's The Salisbury Poisonings refused to make a drama out of a crisis, but was a fitting tribute to an innocent victim

From here, 2018 seems like our salad days, when we found time to laugh at Russian spies and their ludicrous tales of Salisbury’s spires.

Friday, 19th June 2020, 3:45 pm

But as The Salisbury Poisonings (BBC1, Sun-Tue, 9pm) showed, this was no laughing matter.

Sergei Skripal, a former MI6 double agent at the heart of the Russian secret service, was poisoned with a deadly nerve agent as he walked through the sleepy Wiltshire cathedral city with his daughter Yulia. Both became critically ill, as did one of the first police officers on the scene, DS Nick Bailey.

The carelessly discarded Novichok, contained in a perfume atomiser, was found by Charlie Rowley and given as a gift to his partner, Dawn Sturgess. Charlie also became critically ill, but Dawn, tragically, died – an innocent victim of crazed geopolitics.

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MyAnna Buring starred as Dawn Sturgess in The Salisbury Poisonings, the new drama which ran for three nights on BBC1 this week. Picture: Dancing Ledge Productions/BBC

This drama-doc could so easily have became an episode of Spooks – following the spies and the manhunt to catch them.

But to do so would have minimised the dreadful human cost of the incident so many of us laughed of.

The awful toll it took on the people of Salisbury, terrified that anything they touched could be deadly, and the people charged with making sure it wasn’t, was skilfully revealed, with terrific performances by Rafe Spall and Anne-Marie Duff.

But also key to this was the woman whose death became an afterthought in the coverage – Dawn Sturgess. Her somewhat chaotic life has been an excuse to ignore her as collateral damage in the spy game, which would have been a betrayal of her, her friends and family.

With lessons to learn about track and trace, contagions and public health, this took a serious subject seriously, and was a fitting tribute to a life which might have been forgotten.

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