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'The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe' — release date, cast, plot, trailer and all you need to know

Eddie Marsan filming 'The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe'.
Eddie Marsan filming The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe. (Image credit: Getty)

Real-life drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe stars Eddie Marsan as former teacher John Darwin, the conman who brazenly faked his own death in 2002 for life insurance money, while Monica Dolan plays his wife, Anne.

The four-part ITV series, explores how Anne became complicit in her husband’s bizarre deception to avoid bankruptcy, as she played the grieving widow and tried to convince the world, their friends, the police and insurance companies that John had gone missing while canoeing off the North East coast. Even their sons, Mark and Anthony, were none the wiser for five years, as their father secretly lived hidden in a bedsit next door to the home he shared with Anne.

The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe also stars Mark Stanley (White House Farm) and Karl Pilkington (Sick of It) and is based on the unpublished manuscript written by journalist David Leigh, who was the first journalist to track down Anne as she was on the verge of setting up a new life in Panama. 

 Richard Laxton, who counts Honour, Mrs Wilson and Mum amongst his credits, directs all four episodes, with the script penned by Unforgotten writer Chris Lang.

"I’m beyond delighted to be working with two of the finest actors of their generation," says Chris of his stars Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan. "I’ve admired them both from afar for many years (not in a creepy way though) and cannot wait to see them bring Anne and John Darwin to life."

Here’s what else we know so far about The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe

The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe release date

The four-part drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe has already started filming in the North East and Middlesbrough (see our main picture of Eddie Marsan filming above), but it’s not yet been revealed when the series will be landing on ITV in the UK before going to ITV Hub then BritBox later on. We’ll be sure to update as soon as we know more plus if a US release date is announced…

Is there a trailer?

Not yet. With filming still going on, ITV haven’t released a trailer for The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe, but we’ll update as soon as possible before the show’s release.

The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe cast — Eddie Marsan as John Darwin...

Eddie plays canoe conman John Darwin, who was eventually jailed for fraud in 2008. He’s also played Terry Donovan in the American crime drama series Ray Donovan since 2013 and has also starred in the films Deadpool 2, War Horse, Mission: Impossible III, Snow White and the Huntsman and Happy-go-Lucky. Most recently he's played grieving dad Arwel in BBC1's The Pact.

"I’m so thrilled to be working with Chris Lang, one of our greatest writers and to get the chance to work with Monica Dolan," says Eddie. "The story of how and why John Darwin faked his own death to defraud insurance companies is fascinating, and if it weren’t fact, you’d think it unbelievable. I can’t pretend to understand what was going on in his head when he made those choices, but I’m going to do my absolute best to portray him."

Eddie Marsan as John Darwin getting advice on filming in a canoe..

Eddie Marsan as John Darwin getting advice on filming in a canoe.  (Image credit: Getty)

Monica Dolan as Anne Darwin...

Monica Dolan joins Eddie Marsan as John’s wife Anne Darwin, who began to suffer emotionally as the deception continued and she found herself lying to everyone around her.

No stranger to playing real-life characters, Monica won a Best Actress BAFTA for her portrayal of Rosemary West in 2011’s drama Appropriate Adult. She’s also famous for W1A, Vanity Fair, A Very English Scandal and was most recently seen in The Dig on Netflix. 

"The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe tells the story of surely the most outrageous fraud of modern times," says Monica. "As breath-taking as their managing to pull this deception off in the first place, is how spectacularly the couple wrecked it for themselves as soon as they had got away with it.”

Monica Dolan as Anne Darwin in The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe.

Monica Dolan as Anne Darwin in The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe. (Image credit: Getty)

The true story behind ITV’s The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe..

John and Anne Darwin ran a business renting bedsits in County Durham, but ran into debt after purchasing two houses in Seaton Carew in December 2000. It was these debts that caused John to fake his own death in 2002 to claim life insurance. However, the crime ended up taking its toll on Anne, who lied to their sons, Mark and Anthony, for five years in the early days of the fraud, even though her husband secretly was living in a bedsit next door to the couple’s home.

Devastated by the loss of their father, neither son had an inkling their parents were capable of such treachery and being involved in a £679,000 insurance scam. Anne and John eventually 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’d been coerced into the plot by her husband, but the jury didn’t believe her. John was ordered to serve six years and three months in prison, while Anne got six years and six months. 

Since the extraordinary case, the couple have divorced, with John remarrying and Anne writing a book about the scandal in 2016 called Out of my Depth. She has also since reconciled with her sons.

The real hunt for 'Canoe man' John Darwin in 2006...

The real police hunt for 'Canoe man' John Darwin in 2006... (Image credit: Getty)

Has there been an adaptation of the Canoe man John Darwin case before?

Yes, the story of John and Anne Darwin was dramatised in the one-off BBC4 docu-drama documentary Canoe Man in 2010. It starred Bernard Hill and Saskia Reeves as John and Anne Darwin (see below).

Bernard Hill and Saskia Reeves in BBC4's Canoe Man.

(Image credit: BBC)