Two part ITV drama Dark Angel is based on the extraordinary true story of the Victorian poisoner Mary Ann Cotton, played by Joanne Froggatt.
“Mary Ann Cotton married four times, and collected on the life insurance of all four husbands. She killed her mother. She killed her natural children, and her stepchildren. All died painfully and miserably from arsenic poisoning. And she got away with murder for years. Or so we believe… The only certain facts in her story are that she was hanged in Durham on the 24th March 1873 for the murder of her seven year old stepson; that she proclaimed her innocence to the end; and that fatal amounts of arsenic were found in the exhumed bodies of another two children, and of the man who was the love of her life.” – Writer Gwyneth Hughes
We meet Mary Ann as a loving wife and mother, newly returned to her native North East of England. But faced with abject poverty and an ailing husband, we see how ruthlessly determined she is to pursue her desires – and a better life …
Mary Ann is a serial killer, a poisoner whose methods leave no visible scars, allowing her tally of victims to mount unsuspected by a Victorian society unable to conceive a woman capable of such terrible crimes. Travelling around the North East, she inveigles herself into the homes of unsuspecting families, marrying and creating new families of her own – before killing them, taking their money and moving on.
Through adultery, bigamy, fraud and murder, Mary Ann betters herself socially and financially. But the more she kills, the greater the risk her heinous crimes will finally be exposed.
Born into poverty in 1832, Mary Ann Cotton was determined to avoid her destiny of marrying a coal miner. Her mother was left a widow when Mary Ann’s father was killed in a mining accident, plunging the family into poverty and hardship. From then on Mary Ann’s life was a series of births, marriages and deaths. Desperate to improve her situation and cash in on the new fashion of life insurance, she married four times (the last time committing bigamy) killing three of her husbands, as well as at least six other close friends and family members. Unrepentant to the last, she was hanged at age 40.
“They sent the script for the first episode and asked if I was interested in playing Mary Ann. The script was so good and I was hooked straight away. Gwyneth Hughes has done an amazing job of writing the scripts and depicting Mary Ann and her life. I’m trying not to play her as a psychopath, because the story spans over 15 years where we see where she starts and then what she becomes.” – Joanne Froggatt
Dark Angel also features Alun Armstrong as George Stott. George was a publican, who married Mary Ann’s mother following the death of her father. He adored Mary Ann and her children, taking great responsibility for her and her offspring. Jonas Armstrong plays Joe Nattrass. Joe was a hard working coal miner with a twinkle in his eye. His attraction to Mary Ann was instant but at least in the beginning of their long affair, he dictated the rules of their relationship.
Other cast include Laura Morgan, Sam Hoare, Emma Fielding and Penny Layden. The drama is inspired by the book “Mary Ann Cotton: Britain’s First Female Serial Killer” by David Wilson, which is published by Waterside Press. Dark Angel was filmed in North Yorkshire and County Durham.
“I had never even heard her name before starting work on her story, and neither, it seems, had anyone else. While I was in the North East researching her life, I asked everyone I met, and I never met a soul who had heard of her! Mary Ann had disappeared from history. So for a writer with a passion for true crime, history, and strong female characters – well, the idea of bringing her extraordinary story to the screen was beyond irresistible.” – Writer Gwyneth Hughes