Review: The Salisbury Poisonings

Louise Cusine discusses the parallels between The Salisbury Poisonings and Covid-19.

Louise Cusine
22nd June 2020
Credit: @BBC, Twitter
With the response to Covid-19 unfolding, the phrase ‘new normal’ has caused a severe amount of bewilderment across the UK. However, the concept of a ‘new normal’ is nothing new for the 45,000 people in Salisbury, who were at the forefront of an unprecedented public health crisis in March 2018. The BBC drama The Salisbury Poisonings, which was aired last week, follows the Novichok nerve agent attack on the Skripals and its paralysing effects on the wider community, resonating with the world we live in now.

Since 4th March 2018, Salisbury has had to stay alert due to a threat to public health in the form of the nerve agent Novichok; it marked the day when Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia were found foaming at the mouth and vomiting on a park bench. It was believed that the pair had suffered from an overdose, but three days later, it emerged that Sergei Skripal was previously jailed for being a Russian spy and it was the synthetic toxin Novichok which left the pair fighting for their lives in hospital.

Subsequently, an attempted murder investigation was underway and all the places where the Skripals went prior to the attack were forced to close, regardless of impact on business; Novichok is an invisible killer and Tracy Daszkiewicz, who was Director of Public Health and Safety for Wiltshire, was not taking any risks when it came to public health. That being said, the lethalness of Novichok did not stop there. Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey became infected on 8th March after entering the Skripal’s house, of the knowledge that the whole house could be contaminated. However, his recovery came sooner than the Skripals and he was discharged from hospital on 22nd March. Yulia Skripal also recovered from Novichok and was discharged from hospital on 10th April with her father being discharged on 18th May.

Credit: BBC One, IMDb

Three months later, with the hope that Novichok was behind them and various businesses started to reopen, Daszkiewicz was informed of the news that Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley had taken seriously ill with Novichok poisoning. Dawn became ill after spraying perfume on her wrists, which was gifted by Charlie and unknowingly contaminated with Novichok. Her death on 8th July marked a highly poignant moment in the investigation as it showed just how lethal this toxin can be, and Charlie who survived would never see her again. In November, Zizzi, the place where the Skripals had their last meal, was allowed to reopen. On 1st March 2019, Salisbury was declared free of the nerve agent which haunted its streets in the previous year.

Although, the survivors of this attack recovered physically, the mental scars are deemed to last a lifetime, therefore the idea of releasing this TV drama in 2020 was deemed inappropriate and premature by the parents of DS Nick Bailey. Nonetheless, that did not deter the cast of The Salisbury Poisonings and filming mainly took place outside of Salisbury to avoid an excess of sensitivity. The three-part-factual drama, which was ingeniously directed by Saul Dibb and written by Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson, takes us on the journey of Tracey Daszkiewicz, and the final episode will undoubtedly leave any viewer in tears with goosebumps.  

It is only right that the feats of those who went above and beyond to protect the public are praised

Credit:, IMDb

Anne-Marie Duff, who is acclaimed for her role in Sex Education, takes on the role of Daszkiewicz and through the lens of this renowned actress, the draining effects of this crisis on the top health official of the region are made apparent. The audience is made aware of the relentless pressure which she faced; as Public Health Director of Wiltshire, Daszkiewicz was guilt ridden for the death of Dawn Sturgess, but her guilt was suppressed deep inside her because telling her family about the investigation was not permitted. Despite the tragic death of Dawn Sturgess, Daszkiewicz goes down in history as a hero and a fitting tribute is shown at the end of the drama, when we see the real families behind this tragedy. Amongst those who were on the frontline, Daszkiewicz has been promoted to Deputy Director of Public Health for the whole of South West England and DS Nick Bailey returned to work in January 2019. It is only right that the feats of those who went above and beyond to protect the public are praised.

I recommend that people watch it because lessons can be learned from such a small tragedy

In spite of filming the drama and setting a release date for the spring of 2020, its release date was delayed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Since we are past the peak, it is deemed that it is safe to watch, even though there are scenes with people in hospitals on the brink of death and those staff treating them who are covered in PPE. Nevertheless, I recommend that people watch it because lessons can be learned from such a small tragedy and help us with the response to the worldwide pandemic we are going through now. Daszkiewicz, just like public health officials have in the response to coronavirus, used a system of tracking and tracing to warn people if they had been in close contact with any of the sites where Novichok was found. Similar to the Salisbury attack, coronavirus has also had a deep impact on businesses when we went into lockdown on 23rd March.

Credit: @BBC, Twitter

Having worked on the frontline in the Salisbury Poisonings and now on the frontline against coronavirus, Tracy Daszkiewicz drew up on the parallels between the two and said: ‘’The coronavirus is so unique, the way it’s ramped up and taken a hold everywhere, they have galvanised the same spirit in people, of pulling together, and they’re both about following the science and scrutinising the details’’. She also said that the aftermath of the poisonings was difficult, because people required reassurance that it wasn’t going to happen again, and the second wave, in this case Dawn Strugess, was not foreseeable, so anxiety peaked for a second time. Therefore, we have to be wary of a second wave of coronavirus.

Upon watching and reflecting on The Salisbury Poisonings, the sheer hard work of normal people during extraordinary circumstances is truly captivating; as Duff says: ‘’It’s the big parallel, isn’t it? It’s like a microcosm. The story of front-line services, the people who really take care of us when the s—t hits the fan. The coronavirus has crystallised that for us, but I suspect the people of Salisbury were all too aware of it already’’.

Credit: BBC, YouTube
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