ITV's ‘Ruth’ Will Spotlight Life of Last Woman Executed in Britain

A closeup of Lucy Boynton in a 1960s style black hat and black coat, with a group of people also dressed in dark clothes out of focus in the background.

Lucy Boynton in the Cold War thriller The Icepress File.


The life and death of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed by hanging in Britain, will be the subject of ITV’s latest miniseries. Starring Lucy Boynton (Bohemian Rhapsody) as the titular Ellis, the four-part series, simply titled Ruth, is a period drama set in 1955. The real-life Ellis was a model, escort, and nightclub manager who had tumultuous relationships with men, peaking in popularity and her high-powered society life in the mid-1950s. The final of those relationships, with racing driver David Blakely, ended in bloodshed and her subsequent downfall.

After years of physical abuse, Ellis shot Blakely dead when she was 28. She turned herself over to the police immediately and was tried for murder, found guilty, and sentenced to death. It took the jury only twenty minutes to convict her, but her salacious case and sentence were controversial. Ultimately, her death spurred support for the abolition of the death penalty, which came almost a decade later, in 1964. Ellis has been the subject of several shows and films; both fictionalized and of the true crime variety, including 2018's The Ruth Ellis Files: A Very British Crime Story.

ITV's new series plans on weaving Ellis’s story with that of her lawyer, John Bickford, as he tries to make a case for her innocence. It is based on a biography of Ellis, A Fine Day for Hanging: The Real Ruth Ellis Story by Carol Ann Lee. Screenwriter Kelly Jones and producer Angie Daniell worked together on The Long Call, and have reunited to write and produce Ruth. Lee Haven Jones (Passenger) will direct. The show comes from executive producers Kate Bartlett and Antonia Gordon at Silverprint, which produced the long-running Vera

The official synopsis for Ruth reads:

“The powerful mystery of what compelled Ruth Ellis to take the life of the man she was in a passionate but toxic and volatile relationship with will reveal that there was more to this crime of passion than Ruth was prepared to say. Her silence, and resistance to speak of what happened between her and dashing racing driver, Blakely, is far more complex than she admitted. Ruth’s solicitor, the low-status but intelligent and sensitive John Bickford, starts to realise some of what she has suffered and believes they must make a case for provocation. With stakes that could not be higher, literally life or death, Bickford begins his own investigation and uncovers details that could have saved her life had those facts been aired in court.

ITV commissioner Huw Kennair Jones who commissioned Ruth for the network, said of the series, “Kelly’s scripts brilliantly explore not only how the emotional and physical abuse [Ellis] suffered drove her to commit a terrible crime but also the desperate last-minute attempt to save her as she and her supporters battled an unforgiving establishment.”

Series lead Lucy Boynton is a relatively newly risen star, with two main television roles under her belt as Lady Frankie Derwent in the Agatha Christie adaptation Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? and as Jean Courtney in Cold War spy thriller The Ipcress File. She was most recently on our screens as Marie Antoinette in the Joseph Bologne biopic Chevalier which played in American theaters earlier in 2023.No other casting has been announced, but key roles to look out for are Ellis’s lawyer John Bickford and lover, David Blakely.

Ruth does not yet have a release date or an American distributor.

Author Emma O’Neill-Dietel

Emma O’Neill-Dietel is a writer, educator, and history nerd from Philadelphia, PA. She eats, sleeps, and breathes Doctor Who but has been known to enjoy other British TV and movies too. She may love British media but don’t get it twisted; she’s Irish through and through. Follow her on Threads: @emmaod22.

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