Anne-Marie Duff has some idea of how much stress public health officials are under during the coronavirus pandemic, having just played one in The Salisbury Poisonings. Duff plays Deputy Director of Population Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England Tracy Daskiewicz in the BBC miniseries, which is based on the real-life Novichok poisoning in England in 2018. She admits that it was eerie to go from that role into lockdown.
"Well, we actually filmed in November last year. So it was before, you know... We had no idea," Duff explained in an exclusive interview with PopCulture.com. "That scene when Nick Bailey leaves the hospital, and all of the medical staff are applauding him leaving. You know, that scene didn't have an effect on me until we were inside lock down, and then they broadcast it here in the U.K. Then you go, 'Oh my God, this is happening every day, somebody who's recovered from coronavirus leaves the hospital.' So it's, it was just the most extraordinary precursor to what happened."
The Salisbury Poisonings is a three-part miniseries that aired on the BBC in June and is coming to the U.S. this week via AMC+. The scene described above was not the only time Duff felt an eerie connection between the events of the show and the coronavirus pandemic. "It was f—ing mad! I can't describe what it was like having gone from standing on set looking at hazmat suits, to actually seeing one in real life months later," she said.
Duff plays one of the most high-ranking public health officials to deal with the poisoning incident on the show and confirmed that it gave her a newfound respect for that kind of work. She thinks that it made the story more timely for everyone watching, and helped the U.K. process the real-life Novichok poisoning attack in a different way.
"That, I think, is why it was such a huge success here — the TV drama. Because we were very much engaged in this realization of all of these extraordinary foot soldiers who are out there saving our lives, you know, taking care of us, putting food on the shelves, you know?" she said. "All of these people who just do these jobs every day, for no glory, they're just doing it. And quite often, for little reward, because we seldom reward the people who really deserve them, you know? So yeah. I think it had a real heart connection with people when they watched it here because of that."
The Salisbury Poisonings recounts the attempted assassination of a former Russian agent living in the U.K. after he double-crossed the Russian government. A dangerous and illegal nerve agent called Novichok was applied to his doorknob in an attempt to kill him and his daughter, though both survived after about one month in a coma. However, the poison was not properly contained, and one innocent civilian was killed, while others were hurt.
Still, Duff said that the show eschews the international intrigue and political implications of its subject matter to explore the human cost. She said: "The writers were desperate not to make a show about espionage. They wanted to make a show about how the shenanigans of politics affect people on the ground. So that, to me is... domestically political. You see how people's lives are affected, in a way. You know, I always say, great writing is like, 'the world's on fire, but we're inside.' Somebody's living room, working out how people deal with it."