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ITV recreates canoe couple’s infamous photo for new drama

An ITV drama shows John and Anne Darwin, played by Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan, posing for a now infamous photo with an estate agent in Panama (ITV/PA)
An ITV drama shows John and Anne Darwin, played by Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan, posing for a now infamous photo with an estate agent in Panama (ITV/PA)

An infamous image from recent British crime history has been recreated for an ITV drama about the canoe couple John and Anne Darwin, who faked his death to con insurers out of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The damning photo taken at a Panamanian estate agents in 2006 was later to prove that Anne knew all along that her husband was not really dead, despite the lies she had told for years to the police, financial companies and their sons.

The new four-part drama The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe, which will be broadcast starting on Easter Sunday, features Monica Dolan as Anne, and Eddie Marsan as John.

Canoe
The infamous photo was sent by a reader to the Daily Mirror and created front page news (Daily Mirror/PA)

In the story, Anne says that after the initial lie of going along with the canoe accident plot, posing for the photo was “easily the most stupid thing we did”.

The image was found on the internet by a woman who Googled “John, Anne, Panama” and she sent it to a national newspaper.

Its existence meant Anne could no longer pretend to be shocked and pleased after her husband had turned up alive at a London police station, claiming to have amnesia.

Darwin couple assets
The couple, now divorced, were jailed for fraud (Archive/PA)

Journalist David Leigh, the first reporter to find her in Panama, was a consultant for The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe, which was inspired by his upcoming book of the same name, and he spent days on set and location when filming took place.

About the infamous photo, he said: “That picture from Panama was the evidence that brought an end to the Darwins’ truly outrageous lies.

“It was the emphatic proof that Anne Darwin had been lying about her husband’s faked death to everyone she held dear, not to mention the police and the insurance companies, for nearly six years.”

The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe
The drama shows the impact the couple’s lies had on their sons (ITV/PA)

Leigh added: “I spoke to Monica Dolan a few times and tried to give her an accurate picture as possible of what was really going on in Anne’s mind throughout those five and a half years.

“It certainly wasn’t a bed of roses – far from it.

“Monica’s portrayal of Anne, as told though the brilliant script of Chris Lang, is very powerful and I hope viewers will perhaps see her in a new, more sympathetic light after they’ve watched all four episodes.”

Amid mounting debts, the Darwins faked his death in 2002 by staging a North Sea canoeing accident outside their home in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool.

The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe
Monica Dolan plays Anne and Eddie Marsan portays John (ITV/PA)

After John had brazenly lived in a bedsit next door for years, unbeknownst to their sons Mark and Anthony, the couple started a new life in Panama, but he returned to the UK in 2007.

They were eventually jailed for fraud and the extent of the parents’ deception shocked the world.

Marsan plays the controlling narcissist with a glint in his eye, and is shown to browbeat his wife.

Dolan’s portrayal, while sympathetic, allows the audience to form their own opinion on how much guilt she must take.

Missing canoeist’s wife in court for deception
John Darwin was taken into custody and questioned about his outrageous lies (Cleveland Police/PA)

Writer Lang said: “You’d never have imagined that this very ordinary couple could have been hatching this extraordinary plot that they nearly got away with.

“It’s a brilliant slice of English life.”

He added: “I’m sure many of us have dreamt up extraordinary solutions to our problems and then stepped back from the precipice.

“The only difference between us and the Darwins, is that they jumped.”

The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe
Eddie Marsan plays Darwin with a glint in his eye (ITV/PA)

Marsan said he could understand John’s “hubris”.

He said: “As an actor, I go from thinking I’m going to win an Oscar one week to thinking I’m going to be driving a cab the next.

“My self-esteem goes up and down all the time.

“So I can completely understand that in John.

“He refuses to face reality and thinks he’s going to win.

“We all do that, especially when it comes to money.”

Dolan imagined Anne’s life, constantly on the edge of being caught, must have been fraught.

She said: “Imagine living with that stress every minute of the day.

“But you can’t be too sympathetic, this situation was self-imposed.”

The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe is on ITV at 9pm from Easter Sunday to Wednesday April 20.

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