The Salisbury Poisonings plays like one of those high-octane crime thrillers where you turn to your other half and say, “Well that would never happen”. Except, of course, it did happen, in March 2018, when Sergei Skripal – a former Russian intelligence officer who had worked as a double agent for the British – and his daughter Yulia were targeted in a chemical attack in the Wiltshire cathedral city where he had made his home.
Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn’s dramatisation of those events does a good job of putting flesh on the bones of the story, humanising the victims and illustrating the physical and mental toll placed on the local authorities scrambling to respond to a major international incident.
Into this escalating crisis – with its spy novel lexicon of ops rooms, Portdon Down testing labs, counter-terrorism command and COBRA – steps Anne Marie Duff’s Tracy Daszkiewicz, director of public health at Wiltshire Council. Despite her rather prosaic-sounding job (has anyone ever made a TV drama about a local council?) it is the empathetic Tracy who finds herself her city’s first line of defence, pulled out of a food hygiene seminar and tasked with stopping the spread of a military-grade nerve agent “so toxic, a spoonful could kill thousands”.
The fine cast also boasts Rafe Spall as the first responder detective who nearly lost his own life, Annabel Scholey as his frantic wife and MyAnna Buring as Dawn Sturgess, a vulnerable alcoholic whose death – the only fatality of the incident – was the cruel, almost casual by-product of a Cold War spy game far removed from her own quiet struggle of a life. It is Dawn, in particular – an innocent victim whose background was gleefully picked over by the tabloids – to whom the drama strives to restore some posthumous dignity.
Its scheduling, of course, is either brilliantly timely, or crashingly insensitive, depending on your point of view. Because while The Salisbury Poisonings, with its hazmat suits and PPE and urgent talk of lockdowns and contagion, is brilliantly compelling television, it’s certainly not what you’d call escapism right now.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU WEAR
A decade or so on from the reign of Trinny, Susannah, Gok and co, Rylan Clark-Neal (well who else?) has pulled up the shutters on his own “department store of dreams” to help stuck-in-a-rut punters zhuzh up their wardrobes. It’s all very millennial, with excitable fashion bloggers squealing “OMG, white stilettos: game changer!”, and quite camp (Rylan has even adopted the Are You being Served? theme as his signature tune), but the transformations are as heartwarming as ever.
CELEBRITY SUPPLY TEACHER
If you’re struggling with week six hundred of home schooling (or is that just me?), CBBC’s “staff room of superstars” may be the cavalry you’ve been waiting for. Or it may just make you feel even more inadequate about the fact that, unlike Gary Lineker and Tim Peake, you haven’t scored 48 goals for England or been into space. Either way, it’s 15 precious minutes in which to sneak off and look at your phone on the loo.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, June 18 2020 (c) Waitrose Weekend