Last Night’s TV – Canoe Man

There can be few of us who managed to dodge hearing or reading about the scandal that was created by the real Canoe Man. And if we had, Corrie nicking the storyline for Joe would’ve reminded us, but this drama told the humanistic angle of the sorry tale, or at least, one assumes so…

Because – incredibly annoyingly – right from the get go, we were told that the drama was based on a true story, but with the irritating caveat, “though some scenes and characters are fictional.”

Grrrr! That drives me nuts! If you’re going to dramatise a true story, show only truths reenacted, and don’t make stuff up!

So, although I presume much of what transpired was based on the reality of the incident, equally as much may well have been fabricated for dramatic purposes. Which also negated viewer sympathy for Anne Darwin; was this leaning towards seeing her as manipulated victim just bias on the part of the writer, Norman Hull, or is Anne genuinely deserving of our sympathy?

Well, the judge who tried her certainly didn’t think so, and in fact handed Anne a longer sentence than was given to John, who one was led to believe – from this drama – was the one doing the string pulling.

But again, as we were told some of the drama was fictionalised, we’ll never know the truth.

However, none of that detracted from the excellent acting, and though it started rather slowly, it built a natural momentum that kept me hooked. I’m not sure though that the narration by Saskia Reeves – who played Anne Darwin – was entirely necessary.

Bernard Hill as John Darwin was flawless; I’ve seen some reviews of Canoe Man which accuse Hill of begin ‘wooden’ in his performance, but I would argue that this was entirely deliberate. After all, the man he was portraying was so unfeeling that he cared nothing for the pain his ‘death’ was going to inflict on his own children. Surely then he must, by his very coldness, be portrayed as flat and wooden?

And as I’ve mentioned throughout, the only thing that spoiled it for me was the element of never knowing what was fact and what was fiction, and I can’t really say I approve of Hull’s aforementioned bias towards Anne…

She was, when all is said and done, complicit, and one can’t help but wonder if the writer’s sympathy towards her coloured his opinion of what I suspect was plain and simple greed.

If you missed Canoe Man, you can catch it on BBC’s iPlayer here.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.