'Litvinenko's Trailer Offers a First Look at David Tennant as the Doomed Russian Dissident

David Tennant in Litvinenko

David Tennant in "Litvinenko"

(Photo: Sundance Now)

Many people are probably passingly familiar with the story of British-naturalised Russian defector Alexander Valterovich Litvinenko, who was allegedly killed by radiation poisoning by the Russian government.

Litvinenko fled Russia with his family to the U.K. in 2000 after publicly accusing his superiors of, among other things, ordering the assassination of Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky. In London, he worked as a journalist and consultant for the British intelligence services, writing several books and sharing information about the Russian mafia in Europe.

In November of 2006, Litvinenko was poisoned and hospitalized, passing away later that month as the first confirmed victim of lethal polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome. (Polonium-210 is a highly radioactive and, therefore, extremely toxic isotope, and traces were subsequently found at more than 40 locations in and out of London after he was poisoned.) His public deathbed accusations that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind his poisoning kicked off a media firestorm and worldwide speculation.

Sundance's Now's upcoming four-part drama Litvinenko stars David Tennant (Inside Man) as the doomed Russian dissident. However, the series will primarily focus on the Scotland Yard officers who worked for the better part of a decade to find out who was responsible for his death, dramatizing what is generally accepted to be one of the most complex and dangerous investigations in the history of the Metropolitan Police. 

The official synopsis describes the series as follows.

Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy, Kremlin critic and British citizen, lies in a London hospital bed, his condition deteriorating rapidly. Detectives are summoned to take his statement – he claims to have been poisoned and points the finger directly at President Vladimir Putin. Litvinenko dies just a few days later, surrounded by his family. When it’s confirmed that he had been poisoned with polonium-210 – the deadliest substance known to man – the gravity of the situation becomes clear. Facing an unprecedented chemical attack in the heart of London, the police race to seal off potentially contaminated sites, while detectives plunge into a high-stakes murder investigation, tracking their elusive suspects from London to Moscow. In a shadowy world of political power games and fragile international relations, and alongside his widow Marina’s courageous and dignified fight for the truth, can the detectives find justice for Litvinenko’s devastated family?

Russian-American actress Margarita Levieva (The Deuce) co-stars as Litvinenko's wife, Marina, alongside an ensemble cast that includes Mark Bonnar (Guilt), Neil Maskell (Peaky Blinders), Barry Sloane (The Bay), Daniel Ryan (Innocent), Richard Pepper (The Spanish Princess), and Estella Daniels (Da Vinci's Demons).

Intriguingly, this is not the only prestige series in the works aiming to dig into the story of Litvinenko's death. HBO is also working on a drama titled Londongrad, which will star Benedict Cumberbatch as the former KGB agent, but there's no word yet on when we might expect to see that version onscreen. 

All four episodes of Litvinenko will be available to stream on Sundance Now on Friday, December 16.


Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Twitter at @LacyMB