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'Four Lives' — everything about the BBC1 drama starring Sheridan Smith and Stephen Merchant

'Four Lives' features Stephen Merchant as serial killer Stephen Port and Sheridan Smith as his victim's mother Sarah Sak.
'Four Lives' features Stephen Merchant as serial killer Stephen Port and Sheridan Smith as his victim's mother Sarah Sak. (Image credit: BBC)

Four Lives were taken in Barking, Essex, between June 2014 and September 2015, when serial killer Stephen Port drugged, raped and caused four innocent young men to die. Now the fight for justice by the families of Port's victims is being shown in the three-part BBC1 drama Four Lives. It tells the story of four victims of Stephen Port —Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor — and how their families and friends have worked tirelessly to find out what happened to them.

Stephen Merchant, who has most recently starred in the BBC1 comedy The Outlaws, plays murderer Stephen Port, while Sheridan Smith stars plays Sarah Sak, the mother of Port's first victim Anthony Walgate.

The drama is written and produced by Jeff Pope and Neil McKay, the award-winning team behind previous factual dramas The Moorside and Appropriate Adult. The director is David Blair (Care, Reg).

Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, says: “The Stephen Port murders have shone a light not just on the life of one deeply disturbed individual but into the plight of the four innocent young gay men who fell foul of him. 

"Jeff and Neil will go behind the headlines to tell the story from a fresh perspective considering the impact of these crimes rather than the crimes themselves and will explore the challenges the police faced in identifying the serial nature of the killings. We are thrilled with the cast which has been assembled to tell this story and look forward to bringing this difficult but very timely story to BBC1.”

Here's everything you need to know about the three-part drama Four Lives on BBC1...

'Four Lives' release date

Due to an ongoing court case, an air date for BBC1 drama Four Lives was delayed for legal reasons. It had finished filming back in early 2020. We believe the BBC will announce a release date very soon, possibly for early 2022. We will of course update with the BBC1 air date when we can, also when there's a likely US and worldwide release date.

'Four Lives' stars Stephen Merchant and Sheridan Smith.

'Four Lives' stars Stephen Merchant and Sheridan Smith. (Image credit: BBC)

Is there a 'Four Lives' trailer?

The BBC is yet to release a trailer for Four Lives, but we will look out for it, and as soon as one arrives it will be posted here

What happens in BBC1's 'Four Lives'?

Four Lives is by Jeff Pope and Neil McKay, the award-winning team behind previous factual dramas The Moorside and Appropriate Adult. Previously called The Barking Murders but now renamed Four Lives, the three-parter aims to dig beneath the headlines to shed new light on this story by telling it from the point of view of the families of Stephen 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-criticised police investigation.

Writer, Neil McKay, says: "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."

Jeff Pope, Executive Producer, ITV Studios, says: "I think this is an opportunity to say something about how we don't always have to accept what we are told by those in authority, and how determination, sheer bloody-mindedness and - above all else - love, will always triumph."

'Four Lives' cast — Stephen Merchant on playing serial killer Stephen Port

In Four Lives, Stephen Merchant will be a world away from his usual comedy roles, such as his recent hapless lawyer Greg in The Outlaws. This is now a serious drama based on harrowing and shocking true events. On joining the cast of Four Lives, Stephen says: “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.”

'Four Lives'

Stephen Merchant as creepy serial killer Stephen Port in 'Four Lives'. (Image credit: BBC)

Stephen Merchant as lawyer Greg.

'Four Lives' star Stephen Merchant as lawyer Greg in The Outlaws. (Image credit: BBC)

'Four Lives' cast — Sheridan Smith on playing Sarah Sak

Sheridan Smith portrays Sarah Sak, who is the mother of Port's first victim Anthony Walgate, killed in June 2014. Sarah was instrumental in the long battle to get justice for the families of Stephen Port's victims. Sheridan says of her Four Lives role: “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.”

Later this year, during the festive holidays, Sheridan Smith will star in Hansel and Gretel: After Ever After on Sky. Then in 2022 she can be seen in the movie sequel The Railway Children Return alongside Jenny Agutter.

Sheridan Smith as Sarah Sak in 'Four Lives'.

Sheridan Smith as Sarah Sak in 'Four Lives'. (Image credit: BBC)

Sheridan Smith.

Sheridan Smith plays Sarah Sak in 'Four Lives'. (Image credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

'Four Lives' cast — Jaime Winstone as Donna Taylor

Jaime Winstone (Five Daughters, Babs) plays Donna Taylor, one of the sisters of Jack Taylor who was Stephen Port's final victim in 2015. Donna and her sisters were motivated to find out what had really happened to younger brother Jack, a 25-year-old forklift truck driver. They refused to believe that he was a drug user who'd overdosed and set about investigating their brother's suspicious death after police seemed to lack interest in pursuing further investigation, It was their super-sleuthing that eventually led the police to arrest Port and him being eventually jailed for life.

Jaime Winstone plays Donna Taylor, sister of Port's victim Jack Taylor.

Jaime Winstone plays Donna Taylor, sister of Port's final victim Jack Taylor. (Image credit: Getty)

The real Donna Taylor (on right) outside the court with her grieving family.

The real Donna Taylor (on right) outside the court with her grieving family. (Image credit: Alamy)

'Four Lives' cast — who else is starring

Further casting for Four Lives includes Robert Emms (Chernobyl) as Ricky, Samuel Barnett (Beautiful People, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency), as Ryan Edwards, Leanne Best as Kate, Michael Jibson as DC Slaymaker, Ben Cartwright as Detective Sgt O'Donnell and Daniel Ryan as Adam Whitworth. Also look out for Rufus Jones, Ella Kenion and Kris Hitchen.

The grisly facts about 'Four Lives' evil killer Stephen Port

The horrific killer Stephen Port was given life imprisonment.

The horrific killer Stephen Port (above) was thankfully given life imprisonment. (Image credit: Alamy)

Stephen Port met his four victims via online gay and bisexual social networks and dating or hookup apps, by enticing them to his home in Barking, Essex. Hours later, the four men all died after being administered huge drug overdoses by Port, who then dumped their bodies. The last three of the four murder victims were found in the graveyard of the church of St Margaret of Antioch in Barking, two found by the same dog walker.

Port had described himself of athletic build online yet was self-conscious about going bald. A chef, he'd once made a brief appearance on BBC cookery show Masterchef.

In 2015 Port was charged with four counts of murder and four of administering a poison, but at the Old Bailey on June 2016 prosecutors added six more counts of administering a poison, seven charges of rape, and four of sexual assault. He also faced four alternative charges of manslaughter. Port had denied all charges. 

On 23 November 2016, Port was convicted of the assaults, rapes and murders of Anthony Walgate, 23, Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor, 25, as well as the rapes of three other men he drugged, and ten counts of administering a substance with intent, and four sexual assaults.

Stephen Port was found guilty on all counts and sent to prison for life.

Nicholas Cannon

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s.