TV Review: The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe

“Anne, why did you go along with it?”

The story – lest you forget – involves Hartlepool conman John Darwin’s faking of his own death via a canoe accident at sea, so that he and his wife Anne could avoid bankruptcy, claim a healthy life insurance payout and ultimately start a new life in Panama, regardless of the fact that they had two adult sons.

Unforgotten maestro Chris Lang’s writing takes Anne’s POV, positioning this as a portrait of a grimly coercive marriage in which fantasist John allows his narcissism to ride roughshod over his wife’s concerns. And Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan do striking work in inhabiting these characters through this insane journey.

But as the story runs through its six years (the passage of time isn’t very well established here I have to say), its grimness is just a little too unrelenting. And its focus on John through Anne’s eyes feels a little unbalanced, leading to too little interrogation of her own motives and actions even in the face of any emotional abuse.

I’d’ve liked a little more from the sons’ perspective too, to further calibrate the basis of the storytelling but with everyone still alive and no-one actually co-operating with the making of this show, there’s limits to how far you can go in the world of true crime. And with this case in particular, there’s little that we get to understand anew so I’d approach with caution tbh.  

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