Stonehouse is a new three-part ITV drama based on a real political scandal, now available on Britbox. In 1974, labour MP John Stonehouse, accused of being a spy for Czechoslovakia faked his own death to start a new life in Australia.
Starring Matthew Macfadyen (Pride & Prejudice, Succession) as John Stonehouse, Keeley Hawes (Bodyguard, The Durrells) as Barbara Stonehouse, Kevin McNally as Prime Minister Wilson, and Emer Heatley (Showtrial) as Sheila Buckley, Stonehouse is directed by Jon S. Baird (upcoming Tetris, Stan & Ollie) and written by John Preston (The Dig, A Very British Scandal).
In the 70s, MP John Stonehouse was working under the government of Prime Minister Wilson. Married and father of three kids, Stonehouse had a promising career, some even thought he could become the next Prime Minister. Things started to go awry for him when he was suspected of being a spy for Czechoslovakia at the height of the Cold War and interrogated by the MI5. Of course, Stonehouse, who was also in deep financial troubles, denied the accusations.
He flew to Miami, with a new identity and a new passport. He swam into the ocean and disappeared, after having neatly folded his clothes and left his (real) identity papers on the sand. He landed on the other side of the beach, gathered his new identity papers, and flew to Australia to start a new life with his secretary, Sheila Buckley, with whom he was having an affair.
Stonehouse was arrested five weeks later, for the most absurd reason: The police believed him to be Lord Lucan, a British aristocrat, and politician accused of having murdered the nanny of his children. Stonehouse finally confessed his true identity and was convicted to seven years of prison (served three).
We had an extremely interesting and enlightening conversation with the cast and creators of Stonehouse, and you can listen to the full interviews down below for more information on the Stonehouse case:
Julia Stonehouse, daughter of John Stonehouse, has claimed her entire life that her father wasn’t a spy and that he suffered a mental breakdown, prior to his disappearance. She spoke a few times against the miniseries and lately, she told ABC :
“Apparently ITV do not feel it’d be polite for the family to be given early access, as the press have been given (…) I hear it contains a plethora of untruths.”
Last week we spoke with the incredible cast and creators of Stonehouse, and we asked Director Jon S. Baird how he dealt with the negative reactions of Julia Stonehouse:
“It’s a good question. First things first, I think we have been incredibly fair to John Stonehouse given all the information we have on him. We have taken a comedic route, but if you look at some of the things he has done, primarily left his wife and kids, knowing that he may never see them again, and made them believe it was dead, it’s an incredibly cruel thing to do. (…) I think you can’t deny that in the end, you feel something for him. It’s tragic. It’s comedic, but it’s tragic.”
He continued: “Julia in particular, didn’t want to be involved in this project from the very beginning. So you’re fighting an illusion battle with someone who, before they even read a word of the script, doesn’t want anything to do with it. I have done a lot of true stories in the past and I’ve always met people involved, if they’re not living, then the relatives. And John (Preston) sat with Julia and met her, he did the same stuff, but she didn’t want to know. So it’s very difficult for someone, (…) if their version is different from ours. (…) Having all the information we have on terms of what he did as a person and who he was as a person, I think we’ve been incredibly fair to him, incredibly fair to his legacy.”
John Preston met Julia Stonehouse, as mentioned before, and he also defended his writing and the portrayal of John Stonehouse in the ITV original:
“I hope, and this certainly was my intention writing it, (…) that it is a very human portrayal of Stonehouse. So we’re not trying to judge him, we’re not pillorying him for the way he behaved”
Regarding Stonehouse’s past as a spy, John Preston declared:
“There is a large files on Stonehouse in the secret service archives in Prague, which has got a lot of accounts of meetings, that he had with his handlers in London, and photographs of him walking around London with his Czech handlers. So there is really no doubt that Stonehouse was a spy. He wasn’t a very competent spy, but he was nonetheless a spy.”
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