The Salisbury Poisonings–New British drama on AMC a riveting account of Russian spy event

Review by C.J. Bunce

British television series that make their way to America tend to be refreshing in that each new show is incredibly different from the last.  No matter how many times Americans catch the latest Brit/Irish/Scot police procedural, it’s nearly impossible to follow how each level of government polices, and manages the policing, of its citizenry.  That quirk doesn’t get more pronounced than in the opener to The Salisbury Poisonings, a four-part series airing Monday evenings on AMC.  The series will likely mean less to those on this side of the pond, although the real-life attempt on the lives of a Russian spy and his daughter living in Salisbury was international news in March 2018, victims of Vladimir Putin’s spy network.  But the first episode has the kind of TV writing that should bring the show to the attention of anglophiles.

The story will be more intriguing for those that don’t know the details of the event.  New television writers Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn spare no time in dropping viewers into a town park where ex-Russian double agent Sergei Skripal is visited by his daughter.  We encounter them as they are barely conscious, propped against each other on a park bench.  The nature of their sickness is only part of the mystery that unfolds.

The production values of The Salisbury Poisonings are a bit thin, but director Saul Dibb (Dublin Murders) uses that to his advantage–this is the story of a small community that could be anywhere in the world, with local officials first on the scene of what could be a virus, radiation poisoning, a food, water, or some other kind of transferable pathogen.  In a world that has faced COVID-19 for a year, understanding the reactions, attitude, and differing approaches of the local officials make the series more believable than it might have been before 2020.  Dibb also worked on Dublin Murders, but even one episode in this series is more engaging.

Two performances are stand-outs.  Anne-Marie Duff (His Dark Materials, Suffragette) is engaging as real-life Tracy Daszkiewicz, a local health official who is first to try to sleuth out what has happened from a poisoning angle.  We encounter her first at her home where she is called into work early on what could have been any day in any year–she was supposed to teach a class that day.  Rafe Spall (Men in Black: International, Hot Fuzz) is detective sergeant Nick Bailey, the unfortunate first officer to arrive at the Skripal home after they are taken to hospital.  His slowly plummeting health is the kind of acting work that will make viewers fill a little off kilter themselves.

As we’re always on the lookout for the next great British/Irish/Scottish/UK police procedural or mystery, count this series–so far–on track to match or surpass Roadkill and other short-season series like The Silence, The Five, The Missing, Thirteen, and CollateralThis doesn’t probably rise to the level of Quirke, Requiem, Shetland, or Hinterland, but it will get viewers back for the second episode.

Keep an eye out for Mr. Selfridge, Hot Fuzz, and Horatio Hornblower actor Ron Cook and A Knight’s Tale, Doctor Who, and The Full Monty actor Mark Addy.  The series originally ran on BBC one in the UK at three episodes.

Set your DVR for The Salisbury Poisonings, airing Monday evenings on AMC at 9 p.m. Central.  Watch the first episode free online here at the AMC website.  You can also stream the entire series with a subscription to AMC Premiere.

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