ITV have confirmed that the life and times of disgraced Labour minister John Stonehouse is to be dramatised for ITV by acclaimed writer John Preston with BAFTA award-winning and Emmy-nominated Matthew Macfadyen (Succession, Quiz) in the leading role and co-starring Keeley Hawes (Honour, It’s A Sin) as Stonehouse’s wife Barbara.
This marks the first time the real-life couple has been on screen together since Spooks in 2002. The three-part drama relates how Stonehouse, a high-flying member of Harold Wilson’s Government, vanished from the beach of a large luxury hotel in Florida in November 1974, leaving a neatly folded pile of clothes as he swam into the sea, intent on faking his own death.
The MP for Walsall North left behind his loving wife Barbara and three young children as a shocked public and media presumed he had drowned or been eaten by sharks.
Charismatic, oozing with charm and brimming with confidence, Stonehouse had impressed Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Labour stalwarts from an early stage in his parliamentary career. From a working-class background, he’d graduated from the London School of Economics, was in the RAF during the War and seemed the ideal candidate for a life in politics.
As the drama unfolds, it becomes apparent his reputation as a devoted family man masked the truth, as he’d embarked on an extra marital affair with his secretary, Sheila Buckley, and acted as a spy for the Czech Secret Service in the 1960s.
His complex financial status and relationships eventually took their toll, with Stonehouse deliberately stealing the identity of a recently deceased constituent. Stonehouse applied for a passport in the dead man’s name and began to weave an elaborate conspiracy, seeking a new life in Australia. But his plans soon turned sour as Stonehouse was arrested by Australian police who had been under the mistaken impression that he was the fugitive peer Lord Lucan.
Brought back to the UK by Scotland Yard detectives, Stonehouse found that he was crucial to keeping the Labour government in power with its wafer-thin majority.
The drama will also star Emer Heatley (Showtrial) as Stonehouse’s mistress Sheila Buckley, Kevin R McNally (The Crown, Unforgotten) as Harold Wilson, Dorothy Atkinson (All Creatures Great and Small, Mum) as Betty Boothroyd and Igor Grabuzov (Voskresenskiy, No Looking Back).
Writer John Preston said,
“I’ve always been fascinated by John Stonehouse. The story of how he faked his own death and tried to start a new life in Australia under an assumed name is one of the most bizarre true-life tales I’ve ever come across. I’m absolutely thrilled that it’s being brought to the screen with such an outstanding cast.”
ITV’s Head of Drama Polly Hill said,
“John Preston’s brilliant scripts and the perfect casting of Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes promise to make this an unmissable drama. This incredible true story and the excellent production team, led by the director Jon S. Baird, will continue the unparalleled quality we have at delivering true drama on ITV.”
Star Matthew Macfadyen said,
“What happened to John Stonehouse is the stuff of legend. I’ve always been intrigued by what motivated him to fake his own death, and leave behind the family he loved and doted upon and a promising political career. John Preston’s script truly captures the man and his colourful life and I’m looking forward to taking on his character.”
The three-part drama will be shown on ITV and on BritBox Worldwide.