ITV has announced their commission of a brand new three part factual drama, The Widower, based on the crimes of convicted murderer, Malcolm Webster.
Co-written and executive produced by award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Jeff Pope (Mrs Biggs writer/executive producer, Appropriate Adult, See No Evil – The Moors Murders both as executive producer, Lucan as writer), The Widower tells how, over a thirteen year period, a seemingly mild-mannered male nurse, Malcolm Webster, played by Reece Shearsmith (Psychoville, The League of Gentlemen, A Field in England) 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.
Sheridan Smith (Mrs Biggs, The Accused) takes the role of first wife Claire Morris, who appeared blissfully happy when she wed Malcolm Webster in Aberdeen’s King’s College Chapel in front of her parents, family and friends on 3 September 1993.
Dressed in kilt and ruffs, Webster declared his undying love for his bride. Eight months later Webster, who was working as a nurse at the time, had systematically poisoned Claire, leaving her comatose, lethargic and hardly capable of walking.
With the realisation Webster was living beyond his means, Claire began to challenge him about unpaid bills and the debts he was incurring on credit cards. He responded by sedating her with powerful drugs stolen from the hospital he was working at, leaving her slumped unconscious on the sofa and unable to question him further. But as Claire’s suspicions about her illness grew, Webster decided she had to go. He plotted her death in a tragic ‘car crash’, swerving off the road into some woods and then setting the car alight with her still unconscious inside. He feigned injury and did not tell witnesses arriving at the scene that his wife was in the car until it was too late.
The crash was deemed to be an accident by police at the time, and we next pick up Webster three years later, now settled in Auckland, New Zealand, on his wedding day to his second wife Felicity Drumm, played by Kate Fleetwood, (Macbeth, Waking the Dead). In front of her unsuspecting parents and sisters, he toasted his wife for making him the ‘happiest man alive’. But Webster even started drugging her on their honeymoon, in preparation for systematically emptying her bank account of her hard earned savings.
His plans to murder her and cash in on a slew of forged life insurance policies were put back, however, when Felicity fell pregnant. For a while Webster seemed content to be a husband and father. But when he was about to be exposed for lying about his ‘wealth’, as the couple were set to complete on a house purchase that Webster could not fund, he made an abortive attempt to set fire to the house he and Felicity were sharing with Felicity’s parents. When this failed he attempted to engineer another “car accident”, but this time Felicity – though she had no idea what Webster was about to do – awoke from a drugged slumber before Webster could set the car alight. Realizing that his fraudulent schemes were about to be revealed, he disappeared once again.
He surfaces back in Scotland four years later, attempting to woo yet another nurse, Simone Banarjee, played by Archie Panjabi (The Fall, The Infidel) in Argyll in 2004. He proposes without telling Simone that he is still married, but from New Zealand Felicity has alerted the Scottish police to the menace that Webster really is. Detective Inspector Charlie Henry, Head of CID for Argyll and Bute, played by John Hannah (Damages, Cold Blood), must try to stop Webster before he can make Simone his next victim.
Jeff Pope, Head of Factual Drama, ITV Studios, 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 added: “I’m delighted to be commissioning another compelling factual 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 drama is set on the east and west coasts of Scotland, Auckland in New Zealand and Guildford, Surrey.
Now retired, Charlie Henry acts as police advisor for the production, whilst Felicity Drumm and Simone Banerjee are consultants.