In March 2018 the eyes of the world turned to the British city of Salisbury. The small unsuspecting town became the epicentre for one of the biggest political events of the 21st century, when there was an assassination attempt on double agent and spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The attack sent shockwaves through a small community and the public services left to deal with an unprecedented national emergency.
Within three days of the attack, key agencies discovered that a lethal nerve agent called Novichok had been used. Just half a teaspoon of Novichok could kill up to 20,000 people.
Based on a true story, the investigation is still ongoing, and until now the heroic acts behind the headlines have not been told. The Salisbury Poisonings is the human story of how Salisbury rose to the challenge to fight a lethal contagion.
Those affected by the attack, namely detective sergeant Nick Bailey, Caroline and Stan Sturgess (Dawn Sturgess’s parents) and local Head of Public Health Tracy Daszkiewicz, have worked exclusively with producers to tell their stories amidst the ongoing investigation.
Here is a look at some of the real-life characters.
Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey – played by Rafe Spall
Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey (Rafe Spall, Prometheus) is a high-flying police officer and devoted family man. When he volunteers to investigate the mysterious case of two Russian citizens who have become ill on a park bench, he is unknowingly poisoned with a high dose of Novichok, one of the most toxic substances on Earth. Unaware at first of his exposure he continues the investigation, not realising that he is feeling ill because of the extremely dangerous toxin. As his situation worsens and it becomes clear what is affecting him, he worries there could be a chance he has spread the toxin into his house and put his wife and daughters at risk.
Sarah Bailey – played by Annabel Scholey
Sarah Bailey (Annabel Scholey, The Split) lived an idyllic life with her husband Nick and their two daughters, until the Novichok attack. After Nick suffers exposure to the toxin, she doesn’t allow herself to show any weakness or fear in front of her girls and must carry the family, including her broken husband, for months, willing him to recover until she makes peace with the fact that they will be living with the legacy of these events forever.
Tracy Daszkiewicz – played by Anne-Marie Duff
Tracy Daszkiewicz (Anne-Maire Duff, Suffragette) is the Director of Public Health for Wiltshire Council and is drawn into the heart of the emergency crisis response in Salisbury. More accustomed to dealing with cases of food poisoning or running local campaigns on drug and alcohol awareness, the decisions Tracy and her colleagues make will be a matter of life or death for the residents of Salisbury. Personally and professionally, she is tested to the very limits of her endurance, cutting herself off from family and friends for months on end in a desperate attempt to ensure that the people of Salisbury come to no harm on her watch. Wracked with pressure and stress Tracy knows the dangers of this substance and will do whatever it takes to contain it, even when she receives push-back from some authorities about the safety methods she suggests imposing.
Dawn Sturgess – played by MyAnna Buring
Dawn Sturgess (MyAnna Buring, The Witcher) is a generous and loving person, popular with everyone who knows her. She has struggled with alcohol addiction for a long time but is trying, with some success, to get her life back in order. She has started a relationship with Charlie Rowley and the pair look after and support each other through periods of relapse, regret and hope. All she truly wants is to build bridges with her family and to get a flat of her own so that one day she and her daughter Gracie can live together again. But tragedy will befall Dawn in a completely unsuspecting way, which will send shockwaves around the world.
Charlie Rowley – played by Johnny Harris
Charlie Rowley (Johnny Harris, Snow White and the Huntsman) is a kind and gentle soul, a recovering heroin addict whose life was on a downward spiral until he met Dawn. Now he has hope, and it spurs him on to improve his circumstances. When Charlie is awarded a new flat of his own, he and Dawn set about making it a home. Charlie has always found useful items in charity bins, repurposing things other people have thrown away. While looking for items to decorate his flat, he finds an unopened bottle of perfume and decides it will make a good present for Dawn. It’s a decision that will both threaten his life and tear him apart with guilt.
All four episodes of The Salisbury Poisonings are available to stream at SBS On Demand. Start with episode 1 now:
When you're done: Listen to The Salisbury Poisonings creators/writers Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson talk us through the delicate process of adapting true stories for the screen