The West Wing's Martin Sheen will star in a new drama based on a maritime disaster which inspired the literary classic Moby-Dick.

The actor, who played President Bartlet in the long-running show, will play Thomas Nickerson in BBC One's The Whale.

The 90-minute drama, which stars the relatively unknown Charles Furness as the younger version of Nickerson, is based on his time as a cabin boy during the last voyage of The Essex which was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale in the southern Pacific Ocean in 1820.

The 14-year-old was the youngest member of the crew and one of only eight survivors of the shipwreck.

Before his death in 1883, he wrote a detailed account of his experiences which inspired Herman Melville to pen his famous novel.

Sheen, whose career includes roles in Apocalypse Now and Badlands, said filming was originally planned to happen in Malibu, California, but he was happy to come to England instead.

He said: "I thought it might be better for me to come here because they had done the film here, all the players were here, all the people who were involved were here and so I would fit in better here than them having to come to the States and make it all work."

The cast also includes Robin Hood actor Jonas Armstrong and Paul Kaye.

Published in 1851, Melville's Moby-Dick told the story of Captain Ahab and the crew of the Pequod as they track a ferocious whale across the ocean.