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Lucy Boynton to star in ITV drama about Britain’s last woman to hang

Lucy Boynton as Ruth Ellis
Lucy Boynton as Ruth Ellis. Credit: ITV/ Des Willie

Lucy Boynton stars in A Cruel Love: The Ruth Ellis Story, depicting the trial and execution of Britain’s last woman to hang, in a drama that examines her life, love, and societal judgment, airing on ITV.

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A Cruel Love: The Ruth Ellis Story will star Lucy Boynton in the title role of Ruth Ellis, sentenced to death in 1955 after being convicted of murder.

It tells the story of Britain’s last woman to hang and exposes the timeless British obsessions of class, sex and death. 

In 1955, amid the glitz and allure of London’s club scene, Ruth achieved remarkable fame at the age of 28, becoming the youngest club manager in the city.

However, her triumph quickly began to disintegrate when she entered into a tumultuous and abusive relationship with racing driver David Blakely. Facing trial for Blakely’s murder, Ruth was sentenced to death by a legal system that seemed to judge her on much more than the crime itself.

Also on the cast, Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Empire of Light) will play Ruth Ellis’s solicitor, John Bickford; Laurie Davidson (Mary and George, Guilty Party) takes on the role of Ruth’s abusive lover and victim, David Blakely; and Mark Stanley (Happy Valley, Dark River) plays Desmond Cussen, Ruth’s devoted admirer and sometime lover.

They’re joined by Joe Armstrong (Happy Valley, Gentleman Jack) as DCI Davies, Arthur Darvill (Broadchurch, Sandman) as divorce lawyer Victor Mishcon, Juliet Stevenson (Truly, Madly, Deeply, Wolf) as Dr Charity Taylor, Governess of Holloway Prison and Toby Stephens (Die Another Day, Black Sails) as Melford Stevenson QC. Nigel Havers has also been cast in an undisclosed role.

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Lucy Boynton said: “Ruth Ellis’ story is a fascinating one. Both she and this complex case have always evoked a strong reaction, and with Kelly’s insightful scripts I’m looking forward to bringing a new perspective to both familiar audiences as well as those who are unaware of her mark on British history.”

The drama is based on Carol Ann Lee’s acclaimed biography A Fine Day for Hanging: The Real Ruth Ellis Story, and has been adapted by Kelly Jones (The Long Call, Des, Baptiste) and will be produced by critically acclaimed producers, Silverprint Pictures, whose portfolio includes Shetland, Vera and Flesh and Blood.

ITV’s drama commissioner Huw Kennair Jones said: “There is so much more to the Ruth Ellis story than we think we know. Kelly’s scripts brilliantly explore not only how the emotional and physical abuse she suffered drove her to commit a terrible crime but also the desperate last-minute attempt to save her as she and her supporters battled an unforgiving Establishment.

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“We’re thrilled to be working with Lucy Boynton and Silverprint Pictures to bring this compelling story to the ITV and ITVX audience.”

Commented Executive Producer for Silverprint Pictures, Kate Bartlett added: “Lucy Boynton is absolutely mesmerizing as Ruth Ellis, pictured here, at the height of her success as London’s youngest club manager. Aged 28, her ascendancy was brought to a sharp halt when she became enmeshed in an intoxicating love triangle which brought death and tragedy.”

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