Faking Your Death – Behind the Scenes of BritBox’s “Stonehouse”

“He was not a man with no moral center,” Stonehouse writer and executive producer John Preston said of the public figure at the center of the new BritBox Original true-crime drama. “It’s just that his moral center really got slowly eaten away by his terrible set of circumstances that he got himself involved in.” During a TCA press conference last fall, the showrunner was joined by some of the cast and director to discuss this three-part adaptation of the scandal of Labour Minister John Stonehouse.

(SNOWED IN PRODUCTIONS AND CLEARWOOD FILMS FOR
ITV1)

(SNOWED IN PRODUCTIONS AND CLEARWOOD FILMS FOR ITV1)

“He faked his own death in 1974, which is the year I was born,” actor Matthew Macfadyen said of the real-life character he portrays in the series. “I didn’t know anything about the story before I read the script. It's such a fascinating story. It's so beautifully written. It feels like a caper, I thought, as I read it which was sort of immediately attractive to me. But, also, it's very sad in many ways. You know, he leaves his wife and kids.” As an actor, Matthew found John Stonehouse easy to play due to a scene that reveals the man’s own aspirations. “You see him watching Day of the Jackal and Jon [Baird, director] and I would laugh about the idea that he fancied himself as Edward Fawkes or a sort of James Bond wannabe or the saint or those '70s smooth action heroes, bumming around in E-type Jags and that certainly plays in with him.”

“We have worked together before, but not for several years,” revealed Keeley Hawes, Matthew Macfadyen’s wife in real life who plays his onscreen wife, Barbara Stonehouse, in the series. “When this came up, it seemed like the perfect project on so many levels, really, mostly because the Stonehouse's are so different to Matthew and me and to our relationship. So it's nice to see us, I think, and interesting for people who may know that we are married to see us as the other couple.”

“As I was doing it, I realized that British politics is in a pretty bizarre state at the moment and there were a lot of strange similarities between what happened in the 1970s and what's going on now,” writer John Preston revealed about how little has changed in the past 50 years. At the same time, the case of  Labour Minister John Stonehouse would be hard to repeat in the present day. “People weren't as closely scrutinized then as they are now, so they thought that they could get away with more. And in the case of Stonehouse, it's genuinely quite hard to fake your own death now because you leave a virtual trail behind. But actually, when Stonehouse faked his own death, it was astonishingly easy to get a false passport. So, it was like an almost open invitation there for people who wanted to leave one life behind and start another one. That interested me a lot. There was a particular strain of British life at the time which lent itself to people having these fantasy selves which they were actually able to make come true.”

You can watch John Stonehouse throw one life away and start another in Stonehouse, streaming exclusively in the U.S. and Canada on BritBox beginning Tuesday, June 17th.