Where is Four Lives filmed and is the BBC drama based on a true story?

a close up of the cast of Four Lives filmed in
(Image credit: BBC/ITV Studios/Ben Blackall/Matt Burlem)

Viewers of the new BBC drama are keen to know where is Four Lives filmed and the story behind the dramatisation.

It's a three part series that makes for uncomfortable and heartbreaking viewing, as new drama Four Lives tells the story of serial killer Stephen Port who drugged, raped and murdered four young men. Actor Stephen Merchant, star of The Office and BBC show Outlaws, takes on the role of the convicted criminal in a dramatisation that refreshingly puts the victims and their stories centre stage.

Chronicling the long fight for justice the loved ones of the four gay men endured after failings in the original police investigation, the show is one of many new dramas coming to the BBC in 2022. Others include the hotly anticipated This is Going to Hurt TV adaptation and Secrets of the Krays on Britbox.

Where is Four Lives filmed?

A number of scenes from Four Lives were filmed in Manchester, England.

Donna Taylor - mother of fourth victim Jack Taylor - who is portrayed in the drama, said that she visited the set in Manchester during filming.

"We went to Manchester to see them film a scene," she told the Sunday People in an interview. "Jaime (Winstone) was acting out me and my family outside the Old Bailey."

Though court scenes were shot in Manchester, most of the show is set in Barking, east London. This is where killer Stephen Port lived and carried out his attacks, leaving two of the victim's bodies in the nearby graveyard of St Margaret's Parish Church.

Filming for Four Lives actually began in 2019. But the series suffered a number of production delays due to legal proceedings against Port, a subsequent inquest into the police investigation, and the Covid-19 pandemic.


Is Four Lives a true story?

Yes, Four Lives is based on the true story of serial killer Stephen Port who murdered four men between 2014 and 2015.

Known as the "Grindr killer", Stephen targeted his victims online through gay dating sites and invited them back to his east London flat where he drugged, raped and killed them. He then disposed of their bodies around Barking.

The 46-year-old received a whole life sentence in November 2016 for killing Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor. The ruling means that he will never be released from prison.

The new BBC drama depicts these murders. It also includes the subsequent inquest into the original police investigation, which concluded in December 2021. A jury deemed that there were a number of failings by the Met Police in the Stephen Port case. This included actions that could have prevented three of the four victims' deaths.

Officers failed to link the four murders, despite Anthony Walgate's body being found outside Port's front door. And the further three bodies discovered in the same Barking graveyard - close to Port's home.

The Metropolitan Police also originally said that the first three victims did not appear to have died in suspicious circumstances. Loved ones of these victims expressed concerns surrounding their deaths to police but were said to be ignored by investigators.

a close up still from Four Lives filmed in the Old Bailey, Manchester.

Actors Sheridan Smith, Isabella Laughland and Leanne Best portray grieving family members in Four Lives. (Credit: Ben Blackall)

Producers behind Four Lives were keen to focus on the four victims in the story rather than Port himself.

The synopsis teases that the show "will go beneath the headlines to shed new light on this story by telling it from the point of view of the families and friends of the four young men - Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor - who were murdered by Stephen Port."

"Four Lives focuses on the fight to uncover the truth about what had happened to their lost sons, brothers and loved ones in the face of a now widely condemned police investigation."

Four Lives cast:

  • Stephen Merchant (Outlaws, Extras) plays Stephen Port
  • Sheridan Smith (Cilla, Gavin and Stacey) plays Sarah Sak
  • Jaime Winstone (Love Rosie, Made in Dagenham) plays Donna Taylor
  • Leanne Best (Line of Duty) plays Kate
  • Rufus Jones (Bodyguard) plays John Pape
  • Tim Preston plays Anthony Walgate
  • Jakub Svec plays Gabriel Kovari
  • Daniel Ryan plays Adam Whitworth
  • Paddy Rowan plays Jack Taylor
  • Michael Jibson plays DC Slaymaker

Stephen Merchant and Sheridan Smith are two household names that viewers will be familiar with. And it seems that both actors felt a sense of duty with their roles given its nature as a true story.

"Every night I was going home in bits, crying – you can’t help but take it home," Sheridan Smith - who plays Sarah Sak, mother of first victim Anthony Walgate - told The Sun.

"I have so much respect for her and what she must have gone through. I really beat myself up with it because I want to do a good job for them."

a close up of Stephen Merchant in Four Lives

Stephen Merchant plays serial killer Stephen Port in Four Lives. (Credit: Photographer - Ben Blackall)

Steven Merchant similarly opened up on the experience of playing serial killer Stephen Port.

"You sort of feel that burden of responsibility because it's a true story of trying to treat it sensitively," he told Digital Spy. "It is something very different from what I've done before, and it was a challenge, an enormous challenge."

Stephen did not meet with the real life Port to prepare for his role. He also welcomed the fact that the narrative focused on the victims and their lives rather than the murderer.

"I think had Port been the very centre of the drama, I might have been more trepidatious about trying to shoulder three parts [of a show] like that," he added. "I felt like what I needed to do was to construct my own kind of interpretation of him, in my own internal logic about how someone like that thinks."

How many episodes in Four Lives?

New BBC drama Four Live has three episodes in total.

Each episode runs for approximately 60 minutes with no adverts. And all are available to watch now on BBC iPlayer.

Viewers can also watch the episodes live on BBC One:

  • Monday 3 January, 9pm - Episode 1
  • Tuesday 4 January, 9pm - Episode 2
  • Wednesday 5 January, 9pm - Episode 3

Audiences have been impressed with the series so far, taking to Twitter to share their praise of the cast's performances and vent their anger at police failings.

"I often have mixed feelings about dramas based on true crime stories," wrote viewer. "But #FourLives getting it absolutely spot on in this victim-focused and compassionate portrayal. A painful story that deserves to be told well."

Another added, "#FourLives is a tough watch. The police clearly did not investigate the crimes of Stephen Port properly because the victims were gay men and who used recreational drugs. I sincerely hope lessons have be learnt & institutionalised homophobia within the police force is tackled."

If you're looking for another crime drama check out the Lincoln Lawyer on Netflix.

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Emily Stedman
Features Editor

Emily Stedman is the former Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things TV, entertainment, royal, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things TV, celebrity and royals, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.