Anne-Marie Duff stars in the new BBC miniseries The Salisbury Poisonings, a drama about an event that she admits she did not know much about before taking the role. The show was lauded when it premiered in the U.K. back in June, and this week it is coming to the U.S. on AMC+. In an exclusive interview with PopCulture.com, Duff explained why she thinks this story will resonate with viewers everywhere.
The Salisbury Poisonings tells the real-life story of a political poisoning in Salisbury, England, in March of 2018. At the time, an illegal nerve agent called Novichok was used to try to murder Sergei Skripal — a former Russian agent who had secretly been working with the British government instead. The assassination attempt nearly loosed a dangerous poison on the whole city and called national security into question as well. Duff said that even in the U.K., the story was hard to follow in the 24/7 news cycle.
"We had heard about him, but it had become a sort of strange joke," she said. "It becomes a story of these two cheeky, audacious Russians who had come to the U.K., poisoned somebody, and then lied and said that they'd come to visit the cathedral. And then rush all the way home and got away with it. So there was this weird kind of bizarre joke around it, but of course, the reality was that it profoundly affected this small city and, and we were very close to it being a huge catastrophe."
Duff plays Tracy Daskiewicz, the Deputy Director of Population Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England. She said: "I knew about it, but I really had to research it and learn about it to do the drama, because I had a sort of passing knowledge of it. And I think that's the case with a lot of people."
Duff added that the show combated "the terrible press coverage of Dawn Sturgess" — an innocent woman who came into contact with Novichok disguised in a perfume bottle. Sturgess passed away, and Duff said, "she'd been so badly misrepresented in the press... I had to do quite a lot of investigating myself."
The Salisbury Poisonings is a four-part miniseries following the police, public health officials and investigators who rushed to get an understanding of this incident before more innocent bystanders could be hurt, as Sturgess was. Duff especially praised screenwriters Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn for their work in conveying the truth of this ordeal.
"Declan and Adam had previously been investigative journalist on this very famous BBC program called Panorama," she explained. "It was a political program, obviously, and one of the programs was dedicated to what happened in Salisbury. So they decided to write a screenplay about it, which, you know, they wanted to testify for all the people of Salisbury whose stories didn't get told."
"You know, it's very easy to get bombarded with so much news now they become numbed by it, don't we?" she continued. "Especially at the moment, my God, we're sort of overfed aren't we? And so you become numb, then you kind of forget that actually what you're dealing with are human beings' lives. And it's generally the people that we meet, you know, that are the least noisy ones, the people who are working hardest. So yeah, you know, it felt... You get to testify for people, and you get to represent people, you get to say 'This is how something of this enormity affects the general public.' And I think we have such a profound understanding of that at the moment — more than we have in modern history."
The Salisbury Poisonings premieres in the U.S. on Thursday, Oct. 1, exclusively on AMC+. XFinity, Dish and Sling subscribers may already have access or be able to add it at no additional cost. The Salisbury Poisonings will air on the AMC cable network in 2021.