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Southwold to feature in BBC's canoe man

PUBLISHED: 10:12 19 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:47 06 July 2010

IT was a real-life story that captured headlines across the world.

But now the amazing life of back-from-the-dead canoeist John Darwin is to be featured in a one-off television drama, filmed on location at Southwold.

IT was a real-life story that captured headlines across the world.

But now the amazing life of back-from-the-dead canoeist John Darwin is to be featured in a one-off television drama, filmed on location at Southwold.

Actor Bernard Hill, who lives in nearby Reydon, plays the lead in the short film Canoe Man, which will be screened on the BBC later this month.

Mr Hill, who starred as the ship's captain in Titanic and The Lord of the Rings, takes the role of John Darwin, alongside Saskia Reeves, from the 1990s film Butterfly Kiss, who plays his wife Anne.

Canoe Man tells the extraordinary story of prison warden John Darwin, who faked his death in a canoeing accident in an attempt to con insurance companies out of £250,000.

The drama, made y Dragonfly Productions, was shot in and around Southwold last June.

The town was chosen as the filming location because of its proximity to London, where many of the cast and crew were based, and because producers were able to rent out a suitable holiday home with a sea view.

Producer Flavia Taylor said the team had rejected using the Darwins' home at Seaton Carew near Hartlepool as the filming would have been too disruptive to the property's new owners.

She said: “It features fairly heavily. The story stretches over five years and John Darwin was hiding in his own home. There are quite a lot of scenes with John and Anne sitting in the house overlooking the sea. Locals will recognise it instantly.”

She said the fact that the film was a dramatic representation of events rather than a direct replica had given the team flexibility in their choice of location, and that the decision was made without knowledge of Bernard Hill's connection to the town.

“We were very keen for Bernard to do it but when we approached him via his agent we had no idea he lived nearby,” she said. “It was a happy coincidence.”

She added: “It was such a nice place to film. We had a wonderful time - it was such a pretty area and everyone was so friendly and supportive of the filming.”

The film opens with John Darwin entering a West London police station in 2007 claiming to be suffering from amnesia, having disappeared five years previously in a canoeing accident.

It shows how after a joyous reunion with sons Mark and Anthony, cracks in the story begin to appear and when a photograph surfaces of John and Anne together with an estate agent in Panama, police begin to uncover the truth.

Executive producer Magnus Temple said: “This is obviously a story that continues to have a hold over the public's imagination.

“But it is in the detail of John and Anne's relationship where the drama really lies: the childlike escape from reality, the strain of maintaining this unbelievable deceit and how it all finally unravels for them in such a public way.”

Mr Darwin, 58, and his wife Anne, 57, are currently serving more than six years in jail. Mr Darwin hit the headlines again last year for attempting to smuggle his memoirs from behind prison walls.

The hour-long film will be screened on Wednesday, March 31 on BBC 4 at 10.45pm.

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