Entertainment

Eddie Marsan to play canoe conman John Darwin and Monica Dolan will play wife Anne in new ITV drama


Eddie Marsan has been cast as canoe conman John Darwin in a new ITV drama about the case which saw the fraudster fake his own death.

The actor, 52, will be joined by actress Monica Dolan, 52, who will portray his wife Anne in the show called The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe. 

The couple, who are now divorced, were both jailed for more than 6 years after they tried to convince family, friends, the police and insurance companies, that John had gone missing in 2002 while canoeing off the coast of Seaton Carew.    

Interesting character: Actress Monica Dolan, 52, will portray Anne Darwin in the show called The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe (pictured in October 2019)

New role: Eddie Marsan (left) has been cast as canoe conman John Darwin in a new ITV drama about the case which saw him fake his own death. Monica Dolan (right) will play his wife Anne

Real life: John and Anne Darwin tried to convince the world that John had gone missing in 2002 whilst canoeing off the coast of Seaton Carew. However their secret was exposed by the discovery of a photo of them posing in a Panama real estate office in July 2006 (pictured)

Real life: John and Anne Darwin tried to convince the world that John had gone missing in 2002 whilst canoeing off the coast of Seaton Carew. However their secret was exposed by the discovery of a photo of them posing in a Panama real estate office in July 2006 (pictured)

The drama, which starts filming in the North East this month, will focus on how Anne became complicit in her husband’s deception to convince the world he’d gone missing in an attempt to claim life insurance and avoid bankruptcy.    

However, the deception was to take its toll on Anne who lied to their sons, Mark and Anthony, for five years whilst her husband, in the early days of the fraud, secretly lived in a bedsit next door to the home he shared with Anne.    

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, now 70, 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 a photo of them posing in a Panama real estate office in July 2006.

Jailed: Anne was released from prison in 2011 after serving part of a six-and-a-half-year sentence

Prison sentence: John was jailed for six years and three months

Jailed: Anne and her husband were both jailed after their secret was discovered, with Anne being released from prison in 2011 after serving part of a six-and-a-half-year sentence

John had been travelling back and forth between Panama and the UK and turned up at a London police station in 2007 claiming he’d been suffering from amnesia.

At her trial Anne pleaded not guilty, arguing that she had 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 his wife, who police described as a compulsive liar, got six years and six months. She was released from prison in 2011.

Since the astonishing case, the couple have divorced, with John remarrying, and Anne opting for a quiet life away from the headlines.

And in January 2021 it was reported that the former teacher has settled into a new life in the Philippines with new wife Mercy May, who at 47 is 23 years his junior. 

The couple married in 2015 after striking up a romance online.  

John receives a state pension of around £134 a week, while his wife, a mother-of-three, sub-lets a clothing stall and owns another shop.

Family: Devastated by the loss of their father, both of John's sons Mark and Anthony didn't had an inkling their parents were capable of lying about his death (pictured at the trial in 2008)

Family: Devastated by the loss of their father, both of John’s sons Mark and Anthony didn’t had an inkling their parents were capable of lying about his death (pictured at the trial in 2008)

She told The Mirror: ‘I have a new business. I’ve had it for three years now. Boom. Making money.’  

While in 2016 his ex-wife Anne wrote a book about the scandal, revealing she been disowned by their two sons.

Writing in Out of my Depth, the so-called ‘Canoe Wife,’ wrote: ‘Why did I do it? That is the question I still ask myself today. Why, when I got home, did I make that phone call to the police?

‘I was never motivated by money. That wasn’t the reason. Incredible though it may sound, the only reason I had was my loyalty to John.’ 

Hidden: John used a secret passageway (pictured) in the bedsit in which he lived for five years after he faked his own death, which connected to Anne's house next door

Hidden: John used a secret passageway (pictured) in the bedsit in which he lived for five years after he faked his own death, which connected to Anne’s house next door

She has since reconciled with her sons, and was last known to be working for the RSPCA in York after gaining qualifications in IT and business while in prison.

ITV’s drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe is based upon 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.   

Stars Monica and Eddie will be joined in the cast by Mark Stanley (White House Farm) and Karl Pilkington (Sick of It, Derek), whose roles have not yet been revealed.

Shocking: Anne lied to their sons, Mark and Anthony, for five years whilst her husband, in the early days of the fraud, secretly lived in a bedsit next door to the home he shared with Anne

Shocking: Anne lied to their sons, Mark and Anthony, for five years whilst her husband, in the early days of the fraud, secretly lived in a bedsit next door to the home he shared with Anne

Speaking about his new role, Eddie said: ‘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.

‘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, and I can’t wait to get started.’

And Monica added: ‘The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe tells the story of surely the most outrageous fraud of modern times – and my favourite kind of drama is when the outrageous comes from the prosaic. 

‘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.’

The real life story is written by acclaimed screenwriter Chris Lang, who said: ‘I am beyond delighted to be working with two of the finest actors of their generation. 

‘I have 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.’

Famous face: Eddie famously starred as Inspector Lestrade in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes alongside Robert Downey Jr

Famous face: Eddie famously starred as Inspector Lestrade in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes alongside Robert Downey Jr

The four-part drama is produced by Story Films, the company founded by three times BAFTA-winner David Nath and fellow award-winning director Peter Beard. 

Susie Liggat (Giri/Haji) also executive produces, with Alison Sterling (The Windermere Children) producing.

They will be joined by the celebrated screenwriter of Unforgotten and Innocent Chris Lang who also executive produces the four part series. BAFTA winning director, Richard Laxton, (Honour, Mrs Wilson, Mum) directs each of the four episodes. 

The drama has been commissioned for ITV by Head of Drama Polly Hill and will be produced in association with All3Media International. 



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