I just finished watching the third episode of The Salisbury Poisonings, the Beeb’s new miniseries about the Novichoc emergency two years ago. Given the hype, I thought it looked interesting, but a drama which at first glance promises to be about global espionage and post Cold War politics quite quickly turns into a bit of a soap opera, focussing on the emotional effects of the poisonings on characters rather than attempting to explain why these crimes happened. While that may have a good deal of resonance now, with everyone having to quarantine for fear of a lethal virus, I found the focus of the drama misplaced: there was a lot of emotion, tragedy and death which I felt was just superfluous to the story being told. We learn next to nothing about why the Skripals were assassinated, apart from some vague detail that Sergei Skripal was some kind of double agent who had somehow angered Vladimir Putin.
With that said, there are a few questions to be asked about this drama: the big one must be, why is the BBC broadcasting it at all, and now in particular? It was obviously produced well before lockdown, so why are we being told this particular story at this particular moment? A lot is being said about the role Russia played in both the EU Referendum and the election of Trump; others have also written about how the social division and animosity currently tearing the UK and America apart is being deliberately, if covertly, stirred up by Russia. And suddenly we see a drama in which Russia is once again cast as the secretive, ominous bully it was fifty years ago. Could the two be related? I really don’t know, but for this drama to appear on our screens right now seems to beg such questions.