When the story of the “Canoe Man” emerged in 2007, I’d enterprise that the nation’s screenwriters had been all sharpening their pens. You’ll in all probability bear in mind it, or a few of it: in March 2002 John Darwin, a 52-year-old former trainer and jail officer, was seen paddling out to sea in a canoe from the shore at Seaton Carew. This was deliberate – Darwin was about to pretend his personal loss of life and, in collusion together with his spouse Anne, use the insurance coverage cash to repay his whopping money owed. The plan, in case you can name it that, was to cover out in a tent within the woods till the story died down (it didn’t).
What was most putting concerning the Darwins was how profoundly unstriking they had been, and this too I’d enterprise caught the attention of the creators of The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe (ITV): there’s nothing extra intriguing than strange individuals doing extraordinary, or on this case totally witless, issues. It invitations the viewers to ask questions of themselves, what they could do in several circumstances, and that leads you to empathy, morality, secrets and techniques, lies and all the great things.
The query for a screenwriter with an awesome true story although, is the best way to do it. Here, author Chris Lang (Unforgotten) has chosen to play it straight. Apart from a starting that’s set on the finish (in 2007 with Monica Dolan’s Anne Darwin being chased round Panama City by paparazzi) the story jumps proper in with John (Eddie Marsan) having lived approach past his means and them each concluding that there’s “only one sensible solution”. It tells you all you should find out about husband and spouse that Anne’s smart answer is declaring chapter, whereas John’s is faking his personal loss of life in a freak canoeing accident.
Things unravel shortly, one lie swirling into one other till Anne finds herself telling her personal sons their father is lifeless. Seconds later John, who on this telling is a deluded narcissist, is on the telephone asking Anne when he can come again house. Lang accurately identifies that the fascinating story right here is Anne’s – how did a seemingly variety, considerate lady discover herself tied up in a wedding like this one? Why did she associate with the harebrained scheme? Why didn’t she simply flip him in, as she threatened a number of instances?
It’s fertile floor but surprisingly we’re provided entry to Anne’s ideas and motives through a voiceover. In TV drama this tends to be a little bit of a lazy shortcut: present, don’t inform and so on. It’s subsequently a shock to discover a voiceover, as a result of Lang isn’t any lazy author – witness Unforgotten, one in every of British TV’s finest latest reveals – and performers pretty much as good as Monica Dolan don’t want their ideas and motives defined anyway. They present, they don’t inform. The apparent comparability is with Sky’s Landscapers, one other weird, real-life crime story (concerning the Mansfield Murders) which additionally requested why a mild-mannered couple (on this case Olivia Colman and David Thewlis) would possibly do egregious issues.
Landscapers took a really completely different method, throwing each filming approach within the ebook at it and creating one thing splendidly trippy. But each dramas admitted that there’s all the time comedy in darkish deeds, and each had been centred on very good performances from their leads. Britain at the moment leads the best way in real-life crime dramas like this, and it must be celebrated. Or to borrow a phrase, we’re killing it.