Martin Sheen will star in The Whale, a two-hour film from BBC Factual Productions and Animal Planet that’s set to premiere in December on BBC 1 and in summer 2014 on Animal Planet. Based on true events, Sheen portrays Old Thomas Nickerson, who served as cabin boy on the ill-fated voyage of the whaling ship the Essex. The two-hour drama is inspired by real-life accounts of the ship’s sinking; those accounts are said to have inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The Whale is written by Terry Cafolla (Holy Cross, Messiah). Filming took place on location in Malta this past spring and wrapped up outside of London last summer.

Sheen, repped by ICM Partners, leads the cast as the elder Nickerson with Jonas Armstrong (Robin Hood, The Street) as First Mate Owen Chase; Adam Rayner (The Hunted) as Captain Pollard; Paul Kaye (Game Of Thrones, Stella) as Joy; David Gyasi (Cloud Atlas, War Horse) as Peterson; and Jolyon Coy (The Hollow Crown) as Lawrence. It also stars Jassa Ahluwalisa, John Boyega and Ferdinand Kingsley, and Charles Furness as the young Nickerson. The Whale is executive produced by Eamon Hardy and Ruth Caleb with Mike Dormer as producer; for Animal Planet, Mick Kaczorowski is EP.