The creators of an ITV drama about canoe couple John and Anne Darwin, who faked his death for money, hope to bring a new theme to the story – forgiveness.
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 in 2002.
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 Thief, His Wife And The Canoe, 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.
Eddie Marsan plays narcissistic John with a glint in his eye.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.
He said: “How much (do) any of us understand why we behave the way we behave? It’s complicated.”
The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe airs on ITV in April.