What happened to Alexander Litvinenko? True story behind ITV's David Tennant drama

The four-part series revisits the fatal poisoning of the former Russian spy

Watch: See David Tennant in the first trailer for Litvinenko

Doctor Who star David Tennant has transformed into former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko for a four-part ITV drama.

The mini-series, titled Litvinenko, dramatises the police investigation into the murder of the ex-KGB officer, who was fatally poisoned in a London hotel in 2006.

But what is true story behind the shocking case? Here's everything you need to know before watching the show, which will air on ITV1 from Monday, 19 June.

Who was Alexander Litvinenko?

Alexander Litvinenko attends a news conference in Moscow in 1998
Alexander Litvinenko, then an officer of Russia's FSB, attends a news conference in 1998. (Reuters/Vasily Djachkov) (Stringer Russia / reuters)

Alexander Litvinenko was a Russian intelligence agent. In 1988, he joined the KGB, the Soviet Union's vast secret police service, and later worked for its successor organisation, the FSB, where he was tasked with tackling organised crime.

He defected to the UK and claimed political asylum in 2000 after publicly accusing Vladimir Putin's regime of plotting to kill oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

Who poisoned Litvinenko?

David Tennant as Alexander Litvinenko
David Tennant portrays Alexander Litvinenko in the new ITVX drama. (ITVX)

In November 2006, Litvinenko met two businessmen, and fellow ex-KGB agents, for tea at the Millennium Hotel in central London. The pair slipped Polonium-210, a highly toxic radioactive substance, into his tea, and he was raced to the nearby University College Hospital.

Flanked by his wife Marina (played by Margarita Levieva in the drama), the dissident claimed to have been poisoned on the direct orders of Putin.

Two Metropolitan Police officers, Detective Inspector Brent Hyatt and Detective Sergeant Jim Dawson, were sent to his bedside to interview Litvinenko. During the police interviews, he provided meticulous details about the events leading up to his illness, which he knew would prove fatal.

He died 23 days after being poisoned, aged 43.

Marina Litvinenko speaks to the media
Litvinenko's widow Marina (centre) in 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

In the years that followed, Marina vowed to get justice for her late husband and successfully pushed for an official public inquiry into his murder.

The inquiry, held in 2016, saw the UK government name the killers as Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, and admit that the poisoning had "probably" been carried out with Putin's approval.

It found that the use of the radioactive substance, which could only have come from a nuclear reactor, was a "strong indicator" of state involvement.

Possible motives included Litvinenko's work for British intelligence agencies after fleeing Russia, his criticism of the FSB, and his association with other Russian dissidents. The inquiry also heard there was a "undoubtedly a personal dimension to the antagonism" between him and Putin.

David Tennant as Alexander Litvinenko
The true-crime drama can be streamed on ITVX. (ITVX)

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2021 that Russia was responsible for killing Litvinenko.

The Kremlin has always denied any involvement in his death and refused to extradite the two suspects, saying that "such claims [are] at the very least unsubstantiated". Kovtun died from COVID in Moscow in 2022, aged 56.

Litvinenko can be streamed on ITVX now. It will air on ITV1 at 9pm on consecutive nights between Monday 19 and Thursday 22 June.