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Unforgotten writer pens new ITV drama about infamous John Darwin disappearance

The shocking case played out in court in 2008.

John Darwin and Anne Darwin, subjects of a new ITV drama
Published: Thursday, 4th March 2021 at 4:09 pm

The unbelievable true story of John Darwin, who faked his death in 2002 to fraudulently collect his life insurance payout, will be the subject of an upcoming factual drama from ITV.


The former prison officer secretly lived in the bedsit next door to the home of his wife, Anne, after "dying" in a canoeing accident, with the couple later attempting to move to Panama, where they were photographed together by an estate agent.

That particular image would go on to be a crucial piece of evidence in the case against them, with the pair ultimately sentenced to six years in prison on fraud charges in July 2008.

Anne pleaded not guilty at trial and both sentences were appealed, but these appeals were denied the following March.

Unforgotten writer Chris Lang has penned the scripts for the four-part series, titled The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe, which will commence filming in the spring.

The show will particularly focus on how Anne became complicit in her husband’s elaborate deception, as it was left to her to convince their family, friends and the relevant authorities that he had gone missing off the coast of Seaton Carew in Cleveland.

The motivation for the crime was financial, as the Darwins had been struggling to cope with the cost of their mortgage as well as £64,000 in credit card debt.

Anne went along with John's scheme, although she would have preferred her husband to declare bankruptcy, lying even to their own sons Mark and Anthony about their father's fate.

Screenwriter Lang said: "If I'd tried to sell this project as an original story, it would never have got further than the pitch. 'It's just too far-fetched, Chris, no-one would ever believe that any of that could actually have happened'. Except it did. All of it. And I loved writing every single word."

ITVs Head of Drama Polly Hill added: "This is an extraordinary story of deception within a very ordinary family. Chris has written brilliant scripts about the heart breaking cost of this elaborate lie. I am so pleased to be working with Richard Laxton again and with Dave Nath and Story Films first drama for ITV."

No casting announcements have been made just yet, but David Nath (The Murder Detectives) and Susie Liggat (Giri/Haji) will serve as executive producers, while Alison Sterling (The Windermere Children) also takes a producing role.

Expect word to arrive on who will take the lead roles in the near future, as production looks to ramp up soon.


The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe will air on ITV. Take a look at the rest of our Drama coverage, or check out what else is on with our TV Guide


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