The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe: How to watch, trailer, ratings, reactions and all you need to know about the new ITV drama

Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan star in ITV's retelling of the incredible true story of John and Anne Darwin, their plan to fake his death, and their move to Panama.

By Alex Fletcher Updated: 20 April 2022 - 11.00am
ITV Eddie Marsan as John Darwin in ITV's The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe

The amazing events of John Darwin’s attempt to fake his own death have been adapted for a new four-part ITV drama, The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe, starring Eddie Marsan, Monica Dolan and Karl Pilkington.

It has all the elements of a far-fetched Hollywood thriller, but is an extraordinary true story about an otherwise ordinary family who took the biggest risk of their lives - and eventually got caught.

Discover all you need to know about the series below, including whether it's a true story and the first ratings, reviews and reactions to the crime drama.

What's the release date of The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe on ITV?

The release date of The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe is 9pm on Easter Sunday, April 17th on ITV.

The following three episodes will air across the following three nights.

The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe: Episode summaries and breakdowns

Episode 1:

We meet John and Anne Darwin, a couple plagued by debt. Facing bankruptcy, John decides to fake his own death using his canoe, much to the horror of his wife. They successfully pull it off and John goes into hiding while Anne consoles her sons.

Episode 2:

John successfully applies for a passport to create a new identity, while forcing Anne to demand an inquest into his death so they can get the insurance pay out. Miraculously it works and the cheques arrive. They plan a new life together in Panama.

Episode 3:

John has had enough of being dead and returns to England to declare he is suffering from amnesia. He is reunited with his  sons. Journalists hunt down Anne in Panama and the story starts to unravel as a photograph of the two of them emerges.

Episode 4:

Anne and John are interviewed by the police – the truth emerges. The case goes to trial where Anne pleads not guilty on the  grounds of marital coercion. Their traumatised sons initially refuse contact but come to find forgiveness for their mother

Watch the trailer for The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe

Who is in The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe cast?

Eddie Marsan and Monica Dolan as John and Anne Darwin for ITV's new drama series The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe ITV
  • Anne Darwin – Monica Dolan
  • John Darwin – Eddie Marsan
  • Mark Darwin – Mark Stanley
  • Anthony Darwin – Dominic Applewhite
  • Dave Leigh – David Fynn
  • Louise – Alice Arding
  • Flick – Francesca Knight
  • Michael – Colin R Campbell
  • Nicola Finnerty – Karina Fernandez
  • DC Phil Bayley – Karl Pilkington
  • DS Paul Sapson – Andrew Lancel
  • DC June Ayoade – Lois Chimimba

Meet the cast of The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe

Renowned actors Monica Dolan (Appropriate Adult, W1A, A Very English Scandal) and Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan, Sherlock Holmes, Happy Go Lucky) will play Anne and John Darwin in the ITV drama, The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe.

Writer Chris Lang (Unforgotten) 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.”

The drama will focus on how Anne Darwin became complicit in her husband’s deception as she started to convince the world, their family and friends, the police and insurance companies, that he had gone missing in 2002 whilst canoeing off the coast of Seaton Carew in Cleveland, where the couple owned two large houses with panoramic views of the sea.

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.

Monica Dolan as Anne Darwin in The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe ITV

Joking about starring alongside Dolan for the first time and his previous performances as "toxic" men, Marsan said: "I suspected that I would work with Monica one day. I've played the husband of Olivia Colman and Shirley Henderson. I've worked with Sally Hawkins. And I've abused them all. I’ve abused all the great actresses on my generation on screen.

"I’ve always thought that Monica is of that level. She’s one of the great actresses of her generation. And whenever you have a story where the woman is the protagonist, I usually expect to find myself cast as the antagonist." 

The cast also includes Mark Stanley (Trigger Point, Run) and Dominic Applewhite (Sex Education, The Inbetweeners), who play John and Anne's sons Mark and Anthony Darwin.

Mark and Anthony were not involved in their parents' con and believed their father had died in the canoeing accident.

Karl Pilkington stars as police office DC Phil Bayley, Lois Chimimba (The One, Vigil) is DC June Ayoade and Andrew Lancel (Coronation Street, Marcella), plays DS Paul Sampson.

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Quiz, Des, Dirty John, Inventing Anna, Canoe Man.

The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe reviews and ratings

The four-part series has garnered a whole host of 4 star ratings. Stuart Jeffries from The Guardian lauded it 4 stars, praising Eddie Marsan's "terrific" portrayal of John Darwin, alongside Monica Dolan's "biddable and doubtful" performance.

Dolan's transformation into Anne Darwin was further praised by iNews' Rachael Sigee in a 4-star rating. She called her "magnificent" - a sentiment we'd have to agree with.

The Telegraph's Benji Wilson also dished out an impressive 4 stars, calling Chris Lang's adaptation "superbly told". He reviewed: "ITV’s new miniseries about how John Darwin faked his own death features superb character acting and dark comic relief."

He added: "Britain currently leads the way in real-life crime dramas like this, and it should be celebrated. Or to borrow a phrase, we’re killing it."

The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe: Fan reaction

Fans took to social media to share their thoughts on the series, with many commenting that they can't believe that it's real - and getting very annoyed at John...

Is The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe based on a true story?

John Darwin and Anne Darwin fake death scam - Read the full real story

Unbelievably, yes – all of the jaw-dropping events in this new ITV series actually happened.

In the early Noughties, the story of John and Anne Darwin gripped the nation as their web of lies and insurance fraud began to unravel.

John, a prison officer, had reportedly gone missing off the coast of Seaton Carew in Cleveland in 2002, where he had been canoeing near to the stretch of coast on which he owned two large houses overlooking the sea.

He and his wife Anne were in serious debt – there were large mortgages and John had run up £64k debts on 13 credit cards, sending their finances spiralling out of control.

John Darwin 2008 Cleveland Police/Getty

John was facing bankruptcy over his excessive spending, but came up with a plan so strange that no one would have believed it as he decided to defraud insurance companies by faking his own death.

Although Anne wanted him to take the bankruptcy, he convinced her to go along with his scheme of lying to everyone – including their own sons Mark and Anthony – about his disappearance.

Meanwhile, John took up residence in a bedsit next door to the home he had shared with Anne, living right under the noses of everyone who thought he had died.

For five years, the couple’s sons were devastated by the loss of their father, and had no idea that their parents would have been able to tell them such an enormous lie. Meanwhile the strain of the deception took its toll on Anne.

Eventually, Anne and John decided to start a new life together in Panama City in 2006, but things began to unravel when John realised his fake passport would not be accepted under new visa regulations.

Detective Superintendent Tony Hutchinson of Cleveland Police holds the  fake passport picture of John Darwin 2007 Getty Images

He tried to return home in 2007, walking into a police station where he claimed not to remember the previous five years, but Anne was already under investigation by police suspicious about her move to Panama.

When a photo of them together at a real estate office in Panama turned up on a Google image search linked to a website about moving to the Central American state, their story came crashing down around them.

Screenwriter Chris Lang, known for his work on Unforgotten and Innocent, 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.”

ITV head of drama Polly Hill added: “This is an extraordinary story of deception within a very ordinary family.  Chris [Lang] has written brilliant scripts about the heartbreaking cost of this elaborate lie.”

What happened to John and Anne Darwin?

Although Anne tried to say in court that she had been coerced into the lie by John at their trial in 2008, the jury didn’t believe her story.

Both were sentenced to more than six years each in prison on convictions of fraud, and while they both appealed their sentences, they were both turned down.

Anne Darwin leaves Manchester Airport police station 2007 AFP

John was eventually released from prison in January 2011, followed by Anne in March of the same year.

Although their sons Mark and Anthony were initially relieved to find that their father was still alive, they were so appalled by the deception that they cut contact with their parents.

Watch The Man, His Wife and The Canoe on ITV and the ITV Hub this Easter.