Canoe Man's fake death is brought to life as creators call for audience to forgive Anne Darwin

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He faked his own death with his wife’s help as part of an insurance scam worth £250,000 in 2002.

But the creators of the new ITV drama The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe have called on their audience to forgive John Darwin’s wife Anne. 

The Darwins’ jaw-dropping deception tricked insurers, police and even their two sons into believing the ex-prison officer had died in a North Sea accident.

Forgiveness: The creators of the new ITV drama The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe have called on their audience to forgive John Darwin's wife Anne (Pictured: Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan who play John and Anne in the show)

Forgiveness: The creators of the new ITV drama The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe have called on their audience to forgive John Darwin’s wife Anne (Pictured: Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan who play John and Anne in the show)

The couple started a new life in Panama but the tale unravelled when John came back from the dead in 2007 claiming to have suffered amnesia.

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

The show, which airs next month, explores the extent of Anne’s culpability and how much she was forced to go along with her husband’s plan.

Played by Bafta-winner Monica Dolan, Anne’s inner monologue narrates the story, while Eddie Marsan plays narcissistic John with a glint in his eye.

Real couple: The Darwins' jaw-dropping deception tricked insurers, police and even their two sons into believing the ex-prison officer had died in a North Sea accident

Real couple: The Darwins’ jaw-dropping deception tricked insurers, police and even their two sons into believing the ex-prison officer had died in a North Sea accident

The script, at times funny, gives Anne a sympathetic hearing without shying away from the incredible hurt she inflicted on her loved ones.

The sons, Anthony and Mark, are shown supporting their supposedly widowed mother for years, throwing wreaths into the North Sea in front of Anne’s home where their father was hiding next door.

When the sons visit her in Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, John listens to their conversations through the dividing walls.

Writer Chris Lang wanted the audience to debate among themselves just how much to blame Anne.

Fraud: The couple started a new life in Panama but the tale unravelled when John came back from the dead in 2007 claiming to have suffered amnesia

Fraud: The couple started a new life in Panama but the tale unravelled when John came back from the dead in 2007 claiming to have suffered amnesia

The final of four episodes shows her efforts to rebuild her family life in a way John – remarried and living in the Philippines – has not.

Her attempts at reconciliation and her obvious feelings of guilt – in counterpoint to John – give the story a fresh twist.

Lang said: ‘Good people do bad things. Let’s try and understand, let’s try and forgive because if her sons could forgive her, I would hope that we can as well.’

Marsan said even the crew were divided by what they made of Anne.

Equally culpable? The show, which airs next month, explores the extent of Anne's culpability and how much she was forced to go along with her husband's plan

Equally culpable? The show, which airs next month, explores the extent of Anne’s culpability and how much she was forced to go along with her husband’s plan 

During her trial at Teesside Crown Court, she used the unusual defence of marital coercion, claiming her domineering husband had forced her to go through with the massive deception.

It failed, but some observers have said that in a post-Me Too world, her explanation would get a more sympathetic hearing.

Marsan said: ‘There’s a generational interpretation of the story. The older female members of the crew felt that she should have taken more responsibility and the younger ones felt that she was a victim.’

Dolan hoped the audience will ‘yo-yo’ in their feelings towards Anne, saying: ‘We can feel guilty but still do things.’

Canoe Man: The final of four episodes shows her efforts to rebuild her family life in a way John - remarried and living in the Philippines - has not

Canoe Man: The final of four episodes shows her efforts to rebuild her family life in a way John – remarried and living in the Philippines – has not

She believed the theme of forgiveness could divide people watching the show, leaving it as a talking point for debate.

None of the Darwin family were involved in making the drama, though the script was based on court documents, police interviews, TV appearances and newspaper stories.

But one of the Darwin sons was thought to have turned up to watch the first day of filming on location in Hartlepool, Lang said, and kept a low profile in a baseball cap and wearing a Covid mask.

Lang felt the couple’s direct input into the script would not have helped.

Sad: The sons, Anthony and Mark, are shown supporting their supposedly widowed mother for years, throwing wreaths into the North Sea in front of Anne's home where their father was hiding next door

Sad: The sons, Anthony and Mark, are shown supporting their supposedly widowed mother for years, throwing wreaths into the North Sea in front of Anne’s home where their father was hiding next door

He said: ‘How much (do) any of us understand why we behave the way we behave? It’s complicated.’

Eddie and Monica also revealed that they maintained their North East accents throughout the filming of the show. 

Eddie told the Mirror: ‘We kept our accents and we just stayed like that so we sounded like a family.’

He continued: ‘You don’t want to think about it whilst you are doing a scene because there are so many other things to think about.’

Monica added: ‘You came out of your cabin and said “I’m gonna speak like that” and I said “I’m talking like that already”.’ 

The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe airs on ITV in April.

The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe airs on ITV in April

The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe airs on ITV in April

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