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Series / The Thief His Wife And The Canoe

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The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe is a four part Black Comedy / Crime Drama based on Real Life fugitive John Darwin (Eddie Marsan) who faked his own death to cash in on his life insurance with the help of his wife Anne (Monica Dolan).


The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe provides examples of:

  • Affectionate Nickname: Several. Mark's wife is nearly exclusively known as Flick, while Anthony's wife Louise is sometimes called Lou. While not exactly a nickname, Mark and Anthony often call each other mate.
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  • ...And That Would Be Wrong: Anne is appalled that John would fake his death to claim on the insurance. John suggests committing suicide for real, then points out that it's wrong.
  • Assumed Win: John spends all his money on real estate in Panama, only to be informed that his visa was rejected.
  • At Least I Admit It: A version happens with both of the Darwins. John gets less time in jail since pleads guilty. However, his sons are disgusted with his flippancy regarding the pain he put them through, costing him his relationship with his sons. Part of the reason Anne has been able to rebuild a relationship with her sons seems to be her overwhelming regret.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Mark, the Darwin's older son tends to take charge once the fraud comes out, insisting he and his brother Anthony clear their names with the press and comforting his brother.
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  • Cerebus Syndrome: The first two episodes interspace drama with absurdist jet-black comedy, but whatever humour there was in the show is significantly toned down if not completely absent in almost every scene occurring after John returns from Panama.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: When the police tell John that his story is different to Anne's, John replies that they shouldn't listen to her because he hasn't done so for over 30 years. The 'comedy' becomes something of a dark subversion once it's revealed through Anne's prison therapy sessions that it's very likely that John never had any real sense of regard for his wife, meaning his apparently sarcastic confession may have been true.
  • The Con: The core premise of the series, revolving around an increasingly convoluted plan John devises and involves his wife in commiting insurance fraud in order to cover overdrafts to their failing business and avoid filing for bankruptcy.
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  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Downplayed. Anne does now have a relationship with her sons again, divorced from John and is leading a quiet life. Mark and Anthony are both married (their wives being briefly featured in the series) and the former has two children. However, Mark has expressed his complicated feelings about his father (amplified by John now living in the Philippines with his new wife) and as far as reports know, Anthony has severed all ties with his father.
  • Failed a Spot Check: John thinks he's made it in Panama, but doesn't realise that he needs a residency visa.
  • Females Are More Innocent: Explored and eventually defied. Anne is portrayed as a timid co-conspirator to her controlling, if largely useless, husband John - which makes her more sympathetic, but no less guilty in her role.
  • Guilt by Association Gag: Anne gets a longer jail sentence than John because she pleaded innocent in court.
  • Sugar Wiki/Heartwarming Moment: Anne meeting her grandson by Anthony is an undeniable one. She has a look of total adoration and despite his complicated feelings regarding his mother, Anthony does let her hold his son.
    • When seeing a counsellor, Anne is asked if John has ever made her happy. Her response is that he gave her two beautiful sons.
    • Small but when Anthony finally visits his mother with his infant son, he mentions his wife Louise sends Anne her love. Considering the pain Anne and John put her husband through, this is incredibly generous on her part, and Anne is extremely grateful, sending her love back.
    • Felicity (Flick) and Louise's minor roles show their loyalty towards their respective husbands, despite the chaos erupting around them.
  • Idiot Ball: John poses for a photo with Anne and the Panamanian man who sold them a plot of land.
  • MacGuffin: The photo of John and Anne in Panama is eventually discovered by the police and used as evidence.
  • Manipulative Bastard: How John and Anne's marriage is framed throughout the series. John isn't above browbeating and emotionally blackmailing his wife in an effort to persuade her to play along to his schemes.
    • Anne herself isn't innocent of this, as her part in the fraud involves treating John's disappearance as a death to their sons over the course of at least seven years. The difference between the two examples is that Anne's manipulation of the situation is more passive, done with great reluctance, and takes an enormous emotional toll on her, compared with John's blithe attitude both in the creation and execution of their scheme as well as in his treatment of Anne.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: ...At least, according to John. While it frames them as an antagonistic reference in the story, the lenders are legally entitled to make claims on money that the couple owes them and aren't actually wrong in their pursuit for reimbursement, which in this context makes it a subverted trope.
  • Naked People Are Funny: John gives the audience some Fan Disservice by standing naked by the window. His Insane Troll Logic when Anne warns that he could be seen is that nobody would care that he's naked because he's supposed to be dead.
  • Never My Fault: One of John's most prevalent personality traits, alongside his self-centredness, impulsivity and poor long-term planning/lack of foresight, apathy, deceitfulness, overconfidence, and penchant for makingfacile/delusional rationalisations. It is played off for very dark humour at the beginning, but gradually lapses into drama as the consequences of his fraud begin to tailspin beyond control while he displays almost complete indifference and a lack of accountability for the amount of damage and the resulting sense of betrayal it brings to his family. In one striking moment in the final episode, when Mark asks his father if he's sorry, John makes a joke of it and then gives a non-apology (if it upset you). Mark can only give his father a look of disgust.
  • Only Sane Man: Anne knows that they will both go to jail eventually, and tries to persuade John to give up before things get worse.
  • The Pig-Pen: John grows a long beard and looks more and more unkempt the longer he spends in hiding.
  • Shout-Out: The title is a reference to the cannibal exploitation film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.
  • Suicide as Comedy: COMPLETELY AVERTED. John does make veiled threats to kill himself several times with the purpose of manipulating his wife to comply with his scam before she caves in. Anne's fully aware that he likely never had any intention of killing himself but is too frightened to call his bluff, and this is never played for laughs.
  • That Man Is Dead: After John is declared dead he goes by the Lazy Alias of Jones.
  • Trauma Conga Line: What the sons are subjected to, especially once the scam is exposed.
  • Unreliable Narrator: According to John's testimony under police custody after returning from Panama, the banks, insurance company and mortgage lenders wouldn't give John and Anne a realistic option to pay off their debts, which had left him with no option but to swindle his money back. This heavily conflicts with Anne's account of John's cavalier attitude in drawing out loans to cover his overspending on assets and personal effects at a rate in which he had no feasible means of repaying.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: John walks down the street wearing a wetsuit and carrying a canoe, but none of the bystanders notice.
  • The Woobie: Although Anne is framed more sympathetically compared to John despite also playing a very active role in their scam, the least ambiguous victims of the resulting fallout are their sons and their families who up till the charade was revealed to them (indirectly, no less!) were completely clueless about what their parents had concocted.


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