A NEW drama series based on the crimes of notorious wife murderer Malcolm Webster was announced yesterday.
The three-part ITV series The Widower will feature Psychoville and League of Gentlemen star Reece Shearsmith as Webster and acclaimed stage and screen actress Sheridan Smith, who starred in The Accused and Mrs Biggs, in the role of Webster’s first wife Claire Morris.
Webster was handed one of the longest jail terms ever imposed in Scotland when he was sentenced to 30 years at the High Court in Edinburgh in 2011.
He was convicted of murdering Ms Morris, 32, in Aberdeenshire in 1994 to inherit a £200,000 insurance payout, after drugging her, staging a road crash and setting fire to the car as she lay unconscious inside.
Webster was also convicted of trying to kill his second wife, Felicity Drumm, in New Zealand in 1999 in another staged crash.
Police caught up with the 54-year-old former nurse from Guildford in Surrey as he was planning a further scheme to
deceive his third fiancée.
An ITV spokeswoman said: “The Widower tells how, over a 13-year period, a seemingly mild-mannered male nurse, Malcolm Webster, set about poisoning and murdering his first wife, attempting to do the same to his second wife and moving on to a further scheme to deceive his third fiancée.”
The role of Webster’s fiancée, Simone Banarjee, is being played by Archie Panjabi, star of The Fall and The Infidel, while Detective Inspector Charlie Henry, the former head of CID for Argyll and Bute, will be portrayed by Scottish actor John Hannah.
Mr Henry is acting as police adviser for the production, whilst Ms Drumm – played on-screen by Kate Fleetwood – and Ms Banarjee are both consultants for the drama.
The Widower is being co-written and produced by ITV Studios’ award-winning factual drama screenwriter and filmmaker Jeff Pope, who was the writer and executive producer for Mrs Biggs.
Mr Pope, who is head of factual drama at ITV Studios (ITVS), said: “This is a quite extraordinary story, far more chilling than any fiction. Webster was a banal, almost benign face of evil. He was so clever at hiding his tracks and presenting a plausible front to his friends, family and colleagues that he was able to do what he did without really attracting suspicion.
“The courage and tenacity of Webster’s second wife Felicity, and his last intended victim Simone, is all that stood between him and potentially more murders.”
Steve November, ITV’s director of drama commissioning, said: “I’m delighted to be commissioning another compelling drama from Jeff Pope and ITVS. The combination of tautly written scripts and a fantastic cast makes this a really exciting addition to our 2014 drama slate.”
The series will be filmed on the east and west coasts of Scotland, as well as in Auckland, New Zealand and Guildford.
Sentencing Webster in 2011, Lord Bannatyne said: “This was a murder of a wholly exceptional kind, and of a type rarely seen in these courts. This was a murder which could properly be described as cold-blooded, brutal and callous.
“The motive was the utterly base one of financial gain. You have shown absolutely no remorse and I am unable to identify any factors that mitigate this dreadful crime.”
Lord Bannatyne added: “I have formed the clear view you are a considerable danger to women.”
The judge said that Webster had been brought to justice thanks mainly to the efforts of Glenn Gray, a detective in New Zealand, who had investigated the broadly similar incident involving Ms Drumm in 1999.
Following his sentencing, Ms Banarjee, of Oban in Argyll, said she believed she was lucky to be alive.
Profile: Actress famed for comedy as well as drama
SHERIDAN Smith co-starred this week with David Morrissey in BBC’s two-part romantic drama The 7.39.
Two years ago, the 32-year-old actress took the title role in Mrs Biggs as Charmain, wife of another notorious criminal, Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, who died last month.
She first appeared on television in 1999 when she played Matilda in ITV’s Dark Ages and is known for her roles in the comedy series Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps as well as Gavin and Stacey and Benidorm.
She is also a critically acclaimed theatre actress who has taken two Olivier awards. In 2011 she won best actress in a musical for her role in Legally Blonde and in 2012 won the best performance in a supporting role for as Doris in the revival of Flare Path. She also recently featured in The Harry Hill Movie.