Tennant & Cumberbatch Will Both Play Alexander Litvinenko In New Drama Series

David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch
David Tennant and Benedict Vumberbatch will each star in a twin series about Litvinenko (BBC/Netflix)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no one in Hollywood has an original idea, and if they do, someone next door has it five minutes later. This is how multiplexes end up with the "Twin Films" phenomenon, from dueling Winston Churchill films Darkest Hour and Churchill, to 1998 blockbusters Deep Impact and Armageddon, to the Murdoch-inspired Succession and Press. The latest will be a pair of biopic series with award season potential, telling the story of British-naturalised Russian defector Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko, who was allegedly killed by radiation poisoning the Russian government.

Deadline initially announced the first project in September 2021, a prestige TV series from the U.K.'s ITV and Nordic Entertainment Group's streaming service Viaplay from the man behind Netflix French hit Lupin, George Kay. Titled Litvinenko, the four-part series starring David Tennant focuses more on the Scotland Yard officers "who worked for ten years to prove who was responsible, in one of the most complex and dangerous investigations in the history of the Metropolitan Police." Margarita Levieva (The Deuce) co-stars as Litvinenko's widow Marina, which should give fans an idea of the series' angle.

Here's the series logline: "The drama will relate how in November 2006, two police officers were called to University College Hospital in London to interview a patient in declining health. The patient was Litvinenko, a Russian dissident who claimed to have been poisoned on the direct orders of Vladimir Putin."

David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch
BBC

The second project, which Variety announced all of a month later, at least has an American producer and distributor, heralding from HBO, with plans for it to stream directly follow on HBO Max. Working with Orwell Productions, the series is titled Londongrad, the common collective phrase used to refer to the large (and exceedingly wealthy) Russian ex-pat population in the U.K. capital city. Benedict Cumberbatch will star in the series as Litvinenko, which is focused more on the KGB's agent's life than after his death.

Cumberbatch is also listed as an executive producer on the series via his Sunnymarch production banner, with David Scarpa (All The Money In The World) adapting the series from Alan Cowell's The Terminal Spy. Bryan Fogel (Icarus) will direct all episodes. Unlike the Tennant series, an episode count was not announced for the HBO project, which is still in the development phase.

Here's the series logline: "Based on the book The Terminal Spy by Alan Cowell, the series tells the true story of Alexander Litvinenko, the KGB agent and later defector killed by poisoning with the radioactive isotope polonium-210 in 2006 in England."

At this point, Tennant's Litvinenko is still looking for an American distributor. However, with ITV doing the sales rights, the field is wide open, and the four-parter could wind up anywhere from PBS' Masterpiece to Amazon Studios. Cumberbatch's Londongrad is expected to premiere on HBO. Neither series has a release date yet, but as neither one has started filming, fans can expect them both to appear at the earliest in 2023.