The thief, his wife and the canoe dramatize the couple’s fake death plot

It was one of the most sensational cases of the turn of the century in the UK, and one that made headlines around the world.

More than five years after John Darwin was reported missing when his wrecked dinghy was found off Durham in northern England, he walked into a police station and said he was suffering from amnesia .

His wife Anne was apparently overjoyed at her husband’s return, as were their two sons.

But soon the real story emerged. The couple had run into financial trouble after buying investment properties and faked John’s death in a bid to claim £500,000 from their insurance policies and pension fund.

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Incredibly, for part of the time he was presumed dead, John Darwin had lived in a small apartment next to the house he shared with Anne before returning to live with her.

The Darwins also traveled extensively to Cyprus, Spain, Costa Rica and Panama, where they intended to settle. But their plans began to crumble after a colleague of Anne Darwin’s became suspicious and alerted the police. Subsequently, a Google search identified the couple as being in Panama.

The Darwins’ story began to make headlines, including the fact that the couple led their sons to believe that their father was dead.

Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan as John and Anne Darwin in The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe.

Provided

Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan as John and Anne Darwin in The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe.

Eventually they were charged with fraud and dishonesty, and in 2008 they were both sentenced to prison terms of more than six years.

Anne Darwin, who claimed she was coerced by her husband and was described in court as a compulsive liar, ended up three months older than him.

Now the Darwins’ story has been dramatized in The Thief, His Wife and Their Canoe, with Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan, Sherlock Holmes) as John Darwin and Monica Dolan (Appropriate Adult, A Very English Scandal) as the Anne’s role.

Marsan says John Darwin’s behavior displayed a form of toxic masculinity. “These kind of men underestimate everyone and think they’re not as smart as them,” Marsan says.

John and Anne Darwin (played by Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan) faked John's death and fled to Panama.

Provided

John and Anne Darwin (played by Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan) faked John’s death and fled to Panama.

“John tried to build a buy-to-let (rental) empire and retire early. He had delusions of grandeur. In a narcissistic way, he thought he was smarter than everyone else.

“That’s why he got the cohones to try this. He thought he could outwit everyone. But he underestimated people’s ability to see through him.

Marsan says a clue to Darwin’s narcissism is the way he treated his sons.

“Before faking his own death, he said, ‘My sons will be fine in a few weeks.’

“He had a very difficult relationship with his own father. He wasn’t that emotionally attached to his father, so he didn’t realize his sons would be so attached to him. Narcissists think everyone is like them. Jean lacked empathy. When he listened to his sons’ grief, he was shocked.

Playing such characters has become a trademark for Marsan.

“I don’t know why they keep asking me to play these roles. The producers are obviously saying, ‘We want a middle-aged guy having a midlife crisis with a healthy dose of narcissism. Let’s get Eddie Marsan. Thanks very much.”

Monica Dolan says the couple’s relationship was “surprisingly interesting”.

Eddie Marsan (pictured with Monica Dolan as Anne Darwin) says John Darwin was a narcissist.  “He thought he could outsmart everyone.  But he underestimated people's ability to see through him.

Provided

Eddie Marsan (pictured with Monica Dolan as Anne Darwin) says John Darwin was a narcissist. “He thought he could outsmart everyone. But he underestimated people’s ability to see through him.

“It’s also an incredibly bizarre series of events, and yet, if you follow what they were trying to do, each individual event makes sense.

“The drama also says something larger. Nobody denies that they were criminals but, at the same time, the banks were selling mortgages that they shouldn’t have sold to this couple. They were bound to get in trouble. It really is a fascinating story.”

So how much of what Anne Darwin said at her Dolan trial does she really believe?

“Everything in the story is told from his point of view,” says Dolan.

“One thing I’ve learned about economic abuse is that it’s very hard to prove. So the main thing I would say is that it’s very hard to say how bad it is. was under his control.

“She did a lot of things independent of him, but her argument was that she could always hear him in her head compelling her. At the time, the jury was not convinced by his argument.

“She gained altitude in the surgery where she worked. She was clearly a very, very good administrator. She wasn’t stupid.

“So would we be underestimating her if we said, ‘She must have been clueless about this’.”

The thief, his wife and their canoe, TVNZ OnDemand

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