Last night we finished watching a drama about the Salisbury poisonings. It was called ‘The Salisbury Poisonings’, which in a way tells you roughly how exciting it turned out to be. I’m not a great one for TV drama because most of those that I have watched over the years either tend to be pretty boring or excessively over-dramatic to the point where they nudge the flanks of fantasy just a little too much to be digestible. And ‘The Salisbury Poisonings’ fell firmly into the former category. It’s not that it made me contemplate suicide, that would just have added to the needless death, it’s just that I found myself emotionally inert for almost the full 3 hours that it dragged me through and that is because as a drama it just wasn’t, well, all that dramatic. I also get tired of hearing how every new drama is the best drama ever; even better than the last one someone thought was the best one, which is usually literally the last one they watched before that. If all TV drama was that good we’d be extinct from all that relentless being gripped.
Back to last night. For a start it felt like the actual Salisbury poisonings were too recent to warrant a full fat BBC budget ball blast and since they had only just left the realms of very recent memory there didn’t seem to be any real reason to jolt them back to life. Secondly, the whole case turned out to be, if not strictly unresolved, then certainly unsatisfactorily concluded: no one was bought to trial, no one properly took the rap and in the end we very wisely decided that starting a war with Russia would turn out to be a very ill advised and disastrous employment of diplomatic willy waving. And thirdly it just wasn’t very interesting (the programme) and there’s another word that is commonly used for things that are not very interesting and that word is boring. It was boring. I was bored. And boredom, as you’ll know from making yourself read this regularly, is not pleasant.
To give some kind of comparison I am more than ready to watch Chernobyl. I got through the first episode ages ago and now just need a moment to absorb the rest. Chernobyl is far enough away in time and still cloaked in enough of a mushroom cloud of mystery to make a dramatization a very fair suggestion. So they did. But who was asking for a drama about the poisonings in Salisbury? What is there about that story that was not covered in more than enough detail at the time, and that time being so recently, that would make anyone need another perspective? Some dodgy Russians slapped toxin on a door handle and disguised some more as perfume, and a series of nasty and unfortunate events resulted. The Russians didn’t even get their man but instead bumped off someone else purely by chance and even the events surrounding that demise are no more riveting played by some unconvincing other than they were on the 6 o’clock news.
Clearly the BBC saw this as a pedigree production as they roped in Anne-Marie Duff and Rafe Spall, both of whom are usually pretty good at their jobs but here were presented with material that just didn’t sit right. It all felt a bit amateurish, a bit rushed (inevitable since the whole thing only happened 2 years ago), a bit local rep. The back stories were wafer thin and yet even then seemed stretched to the point of translucence. There were ordinary people doing their day jobs and then something bad happened but everything eventually got back to normal and then that was just about it. They tried to make a drama from the bits that weren’t dramatic and then failed to make the dramatic bits interesting. The scene set in some sports halls with angry parents asking what was being done was particularly bad but I can’t quite put my finger on why (actually I can but I’m stopping myself from being too horrible). The whole thing felt cheap and clunky and a strain – a weak idea that no-one ever had the notion to say no to, which is a pity and makes it a not inconsiderable waste of money. To me it was the kind of thing you might watch your aunt fall asleep in front of. Or maybe it is just me. No. No, isn’t just me; ‘The Salisbury Poisonings’ was a bit crap.
G B Hewitt. 18.06.2020