Stonehouse — release date, cast, plot, trailer, interviews, first looks and all about this drama on the famous 1970s political scandal

Stonehouse on ITV1 sees married actors Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes plays 1970s political couple John and Barbara Stonehouse.
Stonehouse on ITV1 sees married actors Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes plays 1970s political couple John and Barbara Stonehouse. (Image credit: ITV)

Stonehouse is a new ITV1 and ITVX drama that will reveal the true story behind a famous political scandal in the early 1970s. 

British politician and one-time Labour minister, MP John Stonehouse, ended up faking his own death by pretending to have drowned off the Miami coast in 1974, but then was found to be alive and well when he turned up in Australia!

The three-part drama by acclaimed writer John Preston stars real-life couple Matthew Macfadyen (Succession, Quiz) and Keeley Hawes (Bodyguard, The Durrells) playing married couple John Stonehouse and his wife Barbara. Take a look below at the first look picture released by ITV of Matthew as MP John Stonehouse being quizzed at a Labour Party meeting.

Matthew Macfadyen says: “What happened to John Stonehouse is the stuff of legend. I’ve always been intrigued by what motivated him to fake his own death, and leave behind the family he loved and doted upon and a promising political career. John Preston’s script truly captures the man and his colorful life and I’m looking forward to taking on his character.”

Writer John Preston says: “I’ve always been fascinated by John Stonehouse. The story of how he faked his own death and tried to start a new life in Australia under an assumed name is one of the most bizarre true-life tales I’ve ever come across. I’m absolutely thrilled that it’s being brought to the screen with such an outstanding cast.”

So here's everything you need to know about Stonehouse coming to ITV1 and ITVX in January 2023...

First Look! Matthew Macfadyen as Labour MP John Stonehouse.

First Look! Matthew Macfadyen as Labour MP John Stonehouse in the ITV1 drama. (Image credit: ITV)

Stonehouse release date

Stonehouse will be shown first on ITV1 on Monday January 2 2023 at 9pm. It's a three-part drama with episodes on Monday January 2, Tuesday January 3 and Wednesday January 4, all at 9pm. Stonehouse will also arrive on ITV's free new service ITVX from Monday January 2 and it's likely to come to BritBox in the US.

* ITV1's documentary The Real Stonehouse will be shown the day after the drama finishes on Thursday January 5 at 9pm.

Is there a trailer for Stonehouse?

Yes ITV has now released a trailer which opens with a news report on how a Labour Mp John Stonehouse has gone missing. It shows Matthew Macfadyen as Stonehouse then diving into the sea in Miami to kick off the incredible true story. Take a look below...

Stonehouse plot — what happens in ITV's true-life drama?

Stonehouse reveals the incredible life story of John Stonehouse, who became Labour MP for Walsall North, with a glittering political career. Then he left his loving wife Barbara and three young children as a shocked public and media presumed he'd drowned off the coast of Miami, or had been eaten by sharks. 

From a working-class background, John Stonehouse graduated from the London School of Economics, was in the RAF during World War 2 and seemed the ideal candidate for a lie in politics. In the 1960s when he won his parliamentary seat, John Stonehouse was charismatic, oozing charm and brimming with so much confidence, he really impressed the then Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Labour Party bigwigs from the moment he arrived in parliament. 

A rising star in the Labour ranks, John Stonehouse became a Cabinet minister under Harold Wilson (played by Kevin McNally) and was tipped for high office. However his personal life started to spiral out of control as he became involved with the Czech secret service in the 1960s, embarked on an affair with his secretary Sheila Buckley (Showtrial star Emer Heatley), and was suspected of fraud after a number of investments failed. 

His complex finances and relationships eventually took their toll, with Stonehouse deliberately stealing the identity of a recently deceased constituent. He then applied for a passport in the dead man’s name and began to weave an elaborate conspiracy, seeking a new life in Australia. He vanished from the beach of a large luxury hotel in Florida in November 1974, leaving a neatly folded pile of clothes as he swam into the sea, intent on faking his own death. 

After pulling his Reggie Perrin-style stunt to avoid the impending scandal, Stonehouse’s story grew even more outlandish as, after being spotted in Australia, he was mistaken for the missing peer Lord Lucan, whose nanny had been murdered the month that Stonehouse vanished. 

Brought back to the UK by Scotland Yard detectives, John Stonehouse found that he was crucial to keeping the Labour government in power with its wafer-thin majority. But he was also facing criminal prosecution... He retained his job as an MP before being declared bankrupt, found guilty of fraud and sent to prison, where he suffered three heart attacks.

John Stonehouse with the two women in his life, wife Barbara and mistress Sheila Buckley.

John Stonehouse (Matthew Mcfadyen) with the two women in his life, wife Barbara (Keeley Hawes) and mistress Sheila Buckley (Emer Heatley). (Image credit: ITV)

John Stonehouse (Matthew Macfadyen ) just before his fake suicide in Miami.

(Image credit: ITV)

The real John Stonehouse and wife Barbara.

The real John Stonehouse and wife Barbara. (Image credit: Getty)

John Stonehouse was Labour minister for technology in the 1960s.

John Stonehouse was Labour MP for Walsall North and minister for technology in the 1960s and 70s. (Image credit: Getty)

Stonehouse cast — Matthew Macfadyen on playing John Stonehouse

Matthew Macfadyen, who plays the lead role of John Stonehouse, reveals more on starring in the ITV1 drama alongside his wife Keeley Hawes, with whom he has two children...

How much did you already know about John Stonehouse?
Matthew says
: "I was born the month before John Stonehouse faked his own death in November 1974, so I didn’t know much about the story before this project came along. I just had a vague memory of something I had read about him, and I conflated it with the 1970s TV series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin [in which the title character, played by Leonard Rossiter, faked his own death in a similar fashion]."

What was John Stonehouse like? 
Matthew says
: "The young John Stonehouse was a bright, self-possessed man. Good-looking, charismatic and very personable with people, by all accounts he was a very good MP and good at talking to people from different social backgrounds. He was a shining light in the Labour Party, and destined for higher things had Labour won the 1970 General Election." 

What was John’s marriage to Barbara like? 
Matthew reveals:
"In the story as we tell it in this drama, there was real love and affection between John and Barbara, and she was very ambitious for John. Barbara was a bright woman, and they were a very good team. Even when John is talking absolute nonsense or trying to dig himself out of a hole, she is always there in the background watching quietly, all seeing and all knowing!"

What was it like working with your wife Keeley Hawes as Barbara?
Matthew says
: "We first acted together in Spooks [in 2002], and this was our fourth screen outing as a couple. We didn’t have any qualms about working together again, playing husband and wife. It’s natural as breathing, and Keeley is a brilliant actress, so I’m lost in the scene and working with her. The bonus is that we get to hang out and spend time together!"

* Matthew Macfadyen started out in theatre before his breakthrough TV role playing Hareton Earnshaw in ITV’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights in 1998. He went on to star as Tom Quinn in BBC1’s Spooks (2002-2004), Detective Inspector Edmund Reid in Ripper Street (2012-2016) and Major Charles Ingram in 2020’s Quiz. Since 2018 he’s been best known for starring as Tom Wambsgans in the hit HBO and Sky drama series Succession. He’s also had success on the big screen, with roles in Pride & Prejudice, Frost/Nixon and Death At A Funeral.

Succession star Matthew McFadyen as decidedly dodgy Labour politician John Stonehouse.

Matthew McFadyen as decidedly dodgy Labour politician John Stonehouse, arrested for questioning (above). (Image credit: ITV)

 Keeley Hawes on playing Barbara Stonehouse

Matthew Macfadyen’s real-life wife Keeley Hawes plays his on screen wife Barbara Stonehouse in the series. Here, Keeley tells us much more...

How much did you already know about the John Stonehouse story?
Keeley says
: "I hadn’t heard about John Stonehouse, but it’s quite a story! It’s the kind of thing where you think: ‘Why hasn’t this been done before?’ Because it’s so brilliantly dramatic, unusual and true."

What was John Stonehouse like? 
Keeley says:
"By all accounts he was an incredibly charismatic man and attractive to women. He was much liked, and his family adored him. It was just a case of somebody who dug himself into a deeper and deeper hole, and couldn’t see a way out. I don’t think he was a bad person – he just found himself out of his depth."

What was John’s marriage to Barbara like? 
Keeley says
: "In our story we meet Barbara when she has been married to John for a number of years, and they have three children. She was an intelligent woman who was ambitious for her husband, and it was a very male-dominated world back then. After John went missing and was subsequently found in Australia, she did an amazing job of navigating her way through it all, and then quietly divorcing him and leaving him to it, while keeping that ‘politician’s wife face’ on things. Keeping up that front!"

What was it like for you and Matthew working together again?
Keeley says
: "Working with Matthew was delightful, and this was perfect because it is so far removed from our lives. We also both look so different in Stonehouse! I wear various wigs for different time periods, and Matthew has contact lenses, lots of facial hair, different wigs and false teeth. Everything about him that I’m used to seeing has been changed!"

* Keeley Hawes found fame as Zoe Reynolds in BBC1’s Spooks (2002-2004) and as DI Alex Drake in Ashes to Ashes (2008-2010). She’s gone on to appear in Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty as DI Lindsay Denton and the BBC1 drama Bodyguard as Home Secretary Julia Montague, as well as The Missing, It’s a Sin and Finding Alice. She remains best known for her role as Louisa Durrell in the ITV drama The Durrells, which ran for four series between 2016 and 2019.

Keeley Hawes plays wronged wife Barbara Stonehouse.

Keeley Hawes playing wronged wife Barbara Stonehouse. (Image credit: ITV)

Who else is starring in Stonehouse?

Stonehouse will also star Emer Heatley (Showtrial) as John Stonehouse’s mistress Sheila Buckley (who he later married), Kevin R McNally (The Crown, Unforgotten) plays Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Dorothy Atkinson (All Creatures Great and Small, Mum) as Betty Boothroyd and Igor Grabuzov (Voskresenskiy, No Looking Back) plays Marek. 

Kevin R McNally as Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Dorothy Atkinson as Labour MP Betty Boothroyd.

Kevin R McNally as Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Dorothy Atkinson as Labour MP Betty Boothroyd. (Image credit: ITV)

Stonehouse writer John Preston

Stonehouse has been written by John Preston, who's book on the Jeremy Thorpe affair A Very English Scandal became a hit BBC1 drama with Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw in the lead roles. He's also written a book on Robert Maxwell called Fall: The Mysterious Life and Death of Robert Maxwell, Britain's Most Notorious Media Baron, which is also being turned into a TV drama soon.

John Preston says: “I’ve always been fascinated by John Stonehouse. The story of how he faked his own death and tried to start a new life in Australia under an assumed name is one of the most bizarre true-life tales I’ve ever come across. I’m absolutely thrilled that it’s being brought to the screen with such an outstanding cast.”

ITV Head of Commissioning, Polly Hill, says: “John Preston’s brilliant scripts and the perfect casting of Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes promise to make this an unmissable drama. This incredible true story and the excellent production team, led by the director Jon S. Baird, will continue the unparalleled quality we have at delivering true drama on ITV.”

Fact v Fiction: what eventually happened to the real John Stonehouse?

After his arrest in Melbourne, Australia, John Stonehouse was deported to the UK and was sentenced to seven years in Wormwood Scrubs prison for fraud in 1976. He was released after just three years and went on to marry his mistress, Sheila Buckley, in 1981. He also joined the SDP (which later joined with the Liberal Party to become the Liberal Democrats), wrote three novels, and made several TV appearances and radio broadcasts.

On 25 March 1988, Stonehouse collapsed on set during an edition of Central Weekend in Birmingham. Three weeks later, he suffered a massive heart attack at his home in Hampshire and later died in hospital.  But even after his death, he was still causing scandal when it was publicly revealed in 2010 that he’d been an agent for the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic military intelligence during the 1960s.

John Stonehouse died in 1988.

John Stonehouse died in 1988. (Image credit: Getty)

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.