The first pictures of Sheridan Smith in the BBC drama about Shannon Matthews' kidnapping have been revealed.

The Cilla star looks wildly different in her role as Julie Bushby in The Moorside Project, the controversial BBC1 docudrama about the 'abduction' of nine-year-old Shannon Matthews in 2008.

The BBC insists the focus of the drama is on the spirit and determination of the women at the forefront of the campaign to find Shannon Matthews and not the story of the schoolgirl or her twisted mother.

Karen Matthews
Karen Matthews

Smith's character, Julie, was chair of the residents and tenants association on the Moorside estate in Dewsbury.

Former Downton Abbey star Siobhan Finneran will play family liaison officer and former Huddersfield detective Christine Freeman while Game of Thrones actress Gemma Whelan takes the role of shamed mother Karen.

READ MORE: I don't hate Karen Matthews despite what she did says Julie Bushby

READ MORE: Sheridan Smith to star in TV drama over missing Shannon Matthews

"The story is a fascinating mixture of what I thought I knew and a whole lot more that I had no idea about," actress Sheridan said in a statement.

"The themes of faith and trust in human nature, and the way the whole community came together really inspired me."

Sheridan Smith in The Moorside Project
Sheridan Smith in The Moorside Project

Shannon, who was later taken into care along with her six siblings, allegedly disappeared after a school swimming trip in February 2008 and sparked one of the biggest hunts ever seen by West Yorkshire Police .

She was discovered 24 days later hiding in a bed at the home of her mother’s boyfriend’s uncle, Michael Donovan , less than a mile away.

Her mother and Donovan had hoped to claim the £50,000 reward money and were jailed for kidnap, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice.

They served just half of their eight-year sentences before being released in 2012.

Watch Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

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