Thursday, 8 April 2010

Canoe Man: review


The disappearance of John Darwin, staged by his wife Anne Darwin, is one of the most fascinating crimes of recent years. This seemingly inconspicuous couple led unexceptional lives in the North East of England, which took a surreal twist when John Darwin decided to escape to a new life, with his wife’s help, and cash in on the insurance. Their story has just been told in a BBC Four drama, Canoe Man, starring Bernard Hill and Saskia Reeves.

The story that Anne told everyone was that John had gone out in his canoe one day, and never come back. But in fact, John was living in concealment in the house next door, which the couple also owned. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the deception, and the one that I find truly shocking, is that the lie was told to the couple’s two sons as well. I find this extraordinarily cruel, and yet the Darwins were not cruel people, as far as I can tell.

They were not especially bright, that is for sure. They ultimately decamped to Panama, but allowed themselves to be photographed – and the snapshot ultimately appeared on the internet. It all became too much and John came back to England and gave himself up, pleading amnesia. But he finished up in prison.

The casting of this low-budget drama was interesting. Bernard Hill is a very reliable actor, and he portrayed John pretty well. Anne, resolutely unglamorous, was played by Saskia Reeves, a beautiful woman, who was so good in Close My Eyes back in the 90s. Saskia Reeves did a sound job, but the script still left me wondering about the motivation of Anne Darwin. Why on earth did she go along with it all? I feel that the story of the Darwins would benefit from much deeper probing of the psychology of this extraordinary ordinary couple.

5 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Thanks for sharing this. I find it fascinating, too, and cruel, that the Darwins never told their children what was going on. Your review is making me wonder quite a lot about what really motivated a lot of the Darwins' actions. Obviously the insurance money, but the rest does seem strange, and I, too, would like to know more...

Deb said...

This is one of those stories that, if it were the plot of a mystery novel, would be labelled as "outlandish," because it's inconceivable that anyone would allow their children to believe that one of their parents were dead. And yet, it happened...

The truth really is stranger than fiction.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I'm with Deb...an editor would never let us get away with this! But it's such a fascinating story...

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Ann Elle Altman said...

Wow, I've never heard this story before. Why did the man decide to run away? Was it money? Now I want to find out more about this story. Thanks for the review.

ann

Dorte H said...

I don´t read novels or watch films based on true crime very often, but it is interesting to read articles about what real people do now and then. As Deb says, this story is outlandish.