By Tyler Aquilina
January 23, 2021 at 04:09 PM EST
Credit: Rich Fury/Getty Images; Leon Neal/Getty Images

Kenneth Branagh is one of the premier adapters of Shakespeare in modern times, but his latest project will deal with much more recent British history.

The Tenet actor will play U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson in This Sceptred Isle, a new limited series for British broadcaster Sky focusing on the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The five-part drama series will follow Johnson and his administration as well as scientists and health care workers as they struggle to respond to the unprecedented crisis.

Michael Winterbottom (The Trip, 24 Hour Party People) will direct the series, and co-wrote it with Kieron Quirke (Defending the Guilty). Winterbottom will also executive produce alongside True Detective EP Richard Brown.

"The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic will be remembered forever," Winterbottom said in a statement. "A time when the country came together to battle an invisible enemy. A time when people were more aware than ever of the importance of community. Our series weaves together countless true stories — from Boris Johnson in Number 10 [Downing Street] to front line workers around the country — chronicling the efforts of scientists, doctors, care home workers and policymakers to protect us from the virus."

Added Brown, "Michael is a master of weaving compelling drama from factual stories and he has an undeniable, distinct vision for this project. He and Kieron have written remarkable and meticulously researched scripts which powerfully dramatize these extraordinary events that continue to affect us all."

Johnson, who was himself briefly hospitalized with COVID-19 in April, has frequently drawn comparisons to former U.S. president Donald Trump, both in appearance and ideology. He was a leading proponent of Brexit and has been widely criticized in the British press. In 2019, as he was about to assume office, The Irish Times described him as "a deeply polarizing figure, cherished by many older Conservatives but viewed by others as a serial liar and an amoral opportunist who sold Brexit to the British people on the basis of false promises."

Branagh, meanwhile, will next appear in the upcoming Agatha Christie adaptation Death on the Nile, which he also directed, currently scheduled for a Sept. 17 release.

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