Merchant, who is also starring in forthcoming wrestling feature Fighting with My Family, will star alongside The Huntsman: Winter’s War and Cleaning Up star Sheridan Smith and Donkey Punch star Jaime Winstone in the factual drama. Deadline understands a U.S. deal is set to be revealed imminently. The series, which will commence filming this spring, is written by Jeff Pope and Neil McKay, the team behind The Moorside and Appropriate Adult.
The BBC One drama tells the story of the notorious Essex crime spree. Merchant plays serial rapist and killer Stephen Port, while Smith plays Sarah Sak, the mother of Anthony Walgate, his first victim. Winstone, daughter of Ray Winstone, plays Donna Taylor, sister of victim Jack Taylor.
The series, which is directed by David Blair (Reg), tell the story from the point of view of the families of Port’s victims, focusing on their fight to uncover the truth about what had happened to their lost sons and brothers in the face of a now widely criticized police investigation.
Produced by ITV Studios, the three-part series is written by McKay, who exec produces with Pope and the BBC’s Lucy Richer and is produced by Serena Cullen. It was commissioned by Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, and Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content for BBC One.
Merchant said: “This is a story that can’t be ignored – how four young lives were lost and their families’ brave attempt to uncover what happened. This factual drama will shed light on their story, so it’s a privilege to be a part of telling it with the brilliant combination of Jeff Pope, Neil McKay and the BBC.”
Smith said: “‘I love playing real life characters – especially an inspirational woman like Sarah Sak – but with it comes responsibility. Along with the other families, Sarah went through so much heartache and it would have been easy for her to just accept what she was being told by the police, but something inside made her keep fighting for her son.”
McKay, added: “Four young men with their entire future ahead of them lost their lives in a brutal and tragic way. This is a story not only of the consequences of that loss but also of the extraordinary courage and resilience shown by those who loved them as they sought truth and justice. It is a privilege to be able to tell it.”