Hartlepool accents and an Abba playlist – how the canoe crook’s dramatic actors got into character

The actors who play the lead roles in the upcoming TV drama about canoe con artist John Darwin and his wife Anne have shared their thoughts on the roles.

Middlesbrough-born Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan have revealed more about how they got into character to play the Teesside couple whose infamous cheating shocked the nation – including talking to each other in Hartlepool accents on and off plateau.

Eddie also shared how he created a playlist of music he discovered John Darwin liked – and how he walked around Seaton Carew listening to them to help get into character. He still has the playlist in his car and admits his wife likes the Abba and the country and western tracks on it.

Read more: “What could go wrong?” TV teaser aired ahead of John Darwin’s canoe trickster drama

Teessiders will know about the case which has now been turned into a TV drama which will air this Easter Sunday. John Darwin paddled out to sea in his canoe near his home in Seaton Carew, just south of Hartlepool, and went missing on March 21, 2002. Not arriving for work later that day, he was reported missing, this which led to a massive search at sea.

All that was found was a double-ended paddle and the wreckage of John’s red canoe: the man himself was nowhere to be found and was declared legally dead. That is until he walked into a London police station five years later and, feigning amnesia, announced, “I think I’m a missing person.”

The story of John and his wife Anne Darwin captivated the nation when news of John’s reappearance broke in 2007 and has now been turned into a gripping four-part ITV drama, The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe, written by Chris Lang, award-winning screenwriter of Netflix’s Unforgotten and The Hook-up Plan, and starring Eddie Marsan and Middlesbrough-born Monica Dolan.

Anne, who was in the lie, had fraudulently claimed hundreds of thousands of pounds in life insurance, pensions and mortgage payments, using them to write off debts and avert impending bankruptcy. It would later emerge that taking out unsustainable mortgages on dozens of properties had left the couple in dangerous waters, so to speak, leading John to fake his own death in an elaborate insurance fraud ruse to try to solve their problems.

“I remember hearing about him showing up at the police station and having amnesia, and everyone was like, ‘Oh, wow, this guy, he’s arrived after all this time,’ and everyone thought he was. was really amazing,” recalls Monica, 53. Neither John nor Anne Darwin spoke to the writers or actors of The Thief, His Wife And The Canoe, but Lang had access to thousands of pages of news articles, police interviews, court documents and a manuscript of a book by the journalist who broke the story, David Leigh.

“Every time I turned a page of the research, there was another amazing revelation,” Lang said. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘I can’t believe they did this. And then this. And then this.’ It was just a story that kept on giving.”

“It’s about a very ordinary couple doing an extraordinary thing and putting themselves in an incredible situation,” adds Marsan, 53, who plays John. He describes the show’s John Darwin as a complex man: a fantasy, a narcissist, “incredibly selfish, incredibly insecure, and incredibly pompous.”



Actor Eddie Marsan is spotted during filming of The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe at Hartlepool’s Headland

“The relationship in the script is a pure perfect storm of dysfunction, really,” he reflects. “There is a co-dependency – he is a man who always needs to be superior to those in his immediate circle. He always needs to have authority. He was a teacher and then a prison guard, then in his marriage to Anne – he’s very dominant, very condescending, he puts her down a lot.”

She’s a dynamic star of Appropriate Adults and W1A that Dolan also found interesting to explore while enjoying the ever-changing nature of Anne’s character. “Anne hasn’t really had a chance to discover herself and find out what she likes, because she went straight from her parents to move in with him, and he’s a very strong personality,” he said. she declared. “I’ve never been in this position where I’m learning the character scene by scene. With her, it depends on who she’s in the room with. It’s a very interesting thing to play with.”

While playing the actual couple, Marsan and Dolan spoke to each other exclusively in a Hartlepool accent so they could “sound like a couple living together, so they had complementary inflections and tones”, and while they wanted To avoid too much speculation beyond the bounds of the script, Marsan says he tried to put himself in John’s shoes to better understand him. “The one thing I’ve discovered through the vine is the music that John loves,” he says. “I always try to listen to music that the characters like, so I created a playlist.
“My wife likes the John Darwin playlist,” he laughs. “It’s on Spotify in the car. It’s country and western and Abba!”

Marsan, known to viewers for his TV roles in Ray Donovan and his film roles in V for Vendetta, War Horse and more, says he would go for a walk around Seaton Carew and listen to “John Darwin’s playlist”. , exploiting the intricacies of the narcissistic delusions he saw in John’s version of the script. “The amazing thing about him is that Seaton Carew isn’t very tall,” he said. “There’s literally only one main street. And less than three weeks after there were TV crews there reporting that this man was missing and then they were dead, he was from back to the main street with a beard and glasses thinking no one could see him!”



Filming at Seaton Carew for the TV drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe starring Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan as John and Anne Darwin
Filming at Seaton Carew for the TV drama The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe starring Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan as John and Anne Darwin

Viewers will have to wrestle with the difficult notion of blame and forgiveness as they watch the events unfold – much like Marsan and Dolan had to when deciding how to play the infamous couple. As well as lying to the police and insurance companies, Anne had also lied to the couple’s two sons, Mark and Anthony. She allowed them to mourn their father’s untimely death when in reality he was alive and well, living next door to the family home.

A few years later, the couple decides to start a new life in Panama. And then John and Anne’s astonishing secret was revealed when a photo was discovered showing them in a real estate agents office in Panama in July 2006. John and Anne were jailed for more than six years in 2008 after being admitted offenses of fraud and Anne was condemned. after a trial.

But did it have to be, or could John and Anne have found another way out of financial ruin? While Marsan thinks there are times in the program where, had she decided otherwise, Anne could have turned things around, he doesn’t think his version of John “ever thought he could give it up, because he was just wrong”. “He never really had the ability to think, to make a choice,” he says. “I think Anne did it, but she never had the strength.”

“One of the things that I think really divides us is forgiveness,” adds Dolan. “I think people are going to look at this situation and they’re going to think, based on what we’re describing: Is she sorry? Does she need to be forgiven?” her, she’s really grateful to have let her back into their lives. I think this whole family has had an amazing journey that most of us couldn’t imagine.”

* The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe is on ITV at 9pm from Easter Sunday to Wednesday April 20.

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