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'Stonehouse': cast, plot, first look, and all about this drama on the famous 1970s political scandal

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

Stonehouse is an ITV 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 colourful life and I’m looking forward to taking on his character.”

So here's everything you need to know about Stonehouse coming to ITV...

First Look! Matthew Macfadyen as Labour MP John Stonehouse.

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

'Stonehouse' release date

Stonehouse has only just been announced by ITV so a release date is a way off yet. We will update once we hear. As BritBox are co-partners on the drama, we can assume the drama will arrive on BritBox in the US, internationally as well as in the UK after its ITV release.

What happens in 'Stonehouse'?

Stonehouse reveals the 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. Stonehouse, a high-flying member of Harold Wilson’s Government, 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.  

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 life 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. 

As the three-part drama unfolds, it becomes apparent his reputation as a devoted family man masked the truth. He'd embarked on an extra marital affair with his secretary, Sheila Buckley, and acted as a spy for the Czech Secret Service in the 1960s. 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. But his plans soon turned sour as John Stonehouse was arrested by Australian police who had been under the mistaken impression that he was the fugitive peer Lord Lucan, who was missing after famously murdering his nanny. 

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...

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 as John Stonehouse

Matthew Macfadyen, who plays the lead role of John Stonehouse, 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.

He is married to his former Spooks co-star Keeley Hawes and they have two children Maddie and Ralph. 

'Succession' star Matthew McFadyen plays decidedly dodgy Labour politician John Stonehouse.

'Succession' star Matthew McFadyen plays decidedly dodgy Labour politician John Stonehouse. (Image credit: Getty)

'Stonehouse' cast — Keeley Hawes as Barbara Stonehouse

Matthew Macfadyen’s real-life wife Keeley Hawes plays his on screen wife Barbara Stonehouse in the series.

Keeley 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 plays wronged wife Barbara Stonehouse. (Image credit: Getty)

'Stonehouse' cast — who else is starring

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

'Stonehouse' writer John Preston

Stonehouse has been written by John Preston, who's book on the Jeremy Thorpe affair (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab), 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.”

What eventually happened to 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)

Is there a 'Stonehouse' trailer?

With production of Stonehouse under way there's no trailer for the drama released by ITV yet. we will post it here when it arrives.

Nicholas Cannon
Nicholas Cannon

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 Whattowatch.com. 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.