TV Review: Litvinenko

A strong cast can’t quite liven up the over-stretched true-crime police procedural that is Litvinenko

“May God forgive you for what you have done to me and to Russia”

Directed by Jim Field Smith and written by George Kay, there’s so much potential in Litvinenko that it’s hard to credit just how they fudge it here. Part of the issue is that whilst the headline of the 2006 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko remains so strikingly shocking as radioactive poison was unleashed in London, possibly in an Itsu, the focus in on the ten year fight of his widow Marina and the London police force to identify those responsible and achieve some kind of justice.

It is probably for the best that there’s no lurid re-enactment of the poisoning, not least because there’s a rare mis-step from David Tennant as Litvinenko, played with a hugely distracting thick accent. I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say that there’s only one episode of it, within the four here, but whilst he is present, there is at least a sense of urgency that drives the storytelling as he’s able to communicate his suspicions from his hospital bed and point the finger directly eastwards.

For as we first meet him, he’s living with his family under the name Edwin Carter and the police and medical staff who deal with his case initially are understandably sceptical when he declares that he’s actually a former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service who has defected and he’s been poisoned with the deadliest substance on earth – polonium-210 – which is only manufactured in Russia. Once the polonium has done its work, Marina (Margarita Levieva) takes up the fight, even if it leads all the way to Vladimir Putin.

Sadly, there just isn’t enough in the dramatisation here to justify three whole episodes of stonewalling Tories and unco-operative Russians. It is a waste of a great cast – Mark Bonnar, Sam Troughton, Daniel Ryan and Neil Maskell all trapped in default grizzled detective mode as the grinding drudgery of real policework is emphasised, Stephen Campbell Moore a rare bright spot as crusading lawyer Ben Emmerson. Ultimately, the show just has nothing meaningful to say about the things it is depicting so it sadly becomes a real struggle.

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