ITV commissions drama into North East man who faked his own death

Stephen Chapman's picture
by Stephen Chapman

ITV is to air a new drama about how John Darwin faked his own death to claim life insurance and avoid bankruptcy.

The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe has been written by acclaimed screenwriter Chris Lang and will be produced by Story Films.

It’s based on the unpublished manuscript by journalist David Leigh, who was the first one to find and interview his wife, Anne Darwin, in Panama.

“This is an extraordinary story of deception within a very ordinary family,” said ITV Head of Drama, Polly Hill.

“Chris has written brilliant scripts about the heart breaking cost of this elaborate lie. I am so pleased to be working with Richard Laxton (director) again and with Dave Nath and Story Films first drama for ITV.”

The drama will focus on how Anne Darwin became complicit in her husband’s deception as she needed to convince the world, their family and friends, the police and insurance companies that he had gone missing in 2002 whilst canoeing off the coast of Seaton Carew in Cleveland where the couple owned two large houses.

She would have preferred her husband go bankrupt, but she eventually went along with his “absurd scheme” to fake his own death. 

The deception included lying to their sons, Mark and Anthony, for 5 years, whilst her husband (in the early years of the fraud), secretly lived in a bedsit next door.

Eventually, Anne and John Darwin decided to leave Seaton Carew and move to Panama City to start a new life together before their secret was exposed by the discovery of an infamous photo of them posing in a Panama real estate office in July 2006.

At her trial Anne Darwin pleaded not guilty, arguing that she had been coerced into the plot by her husband, but the jury didn’t believe her. She and her husband were both jailed for more than 6 years.

“If I'd tried to sell this project as an original story, it would never have got further than the pitch. ‘It's just too far-fetched, Chris, no-one would ever believe that any of that could actually have happened’. Except it did. All of it. And I loved writing every, single, word,” said screenwriter Chris Lang.

Filming for The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe will commence in the spring of 2021.

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