Matthew Macfadyen says chutzpah and vanity of MP who faked death is fascinating

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Matthew Macfadyen said the “chutzpah and vanity” of the MP who faked his death is fascinating as he plays him in an upcoming ITV series.

The 48-year-old Succession actor, who plays John Stonehouse in Stonehouse, added that in the former cabinet minister’s “mind’s eye” he was James Bond as played by Roger Moore.

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Keeley Hawes plays Stonehouse’s wife Barbara (Ian West/PA)

In 1974, Labour’s former postmaster general Stonehouse left his clothes and passport on a Miami beach – fuelling speculation he had been eaten by a shark – and fled using a passport in the name of a dead constituent.

Months later he turned up in Australia, where the authorities suspected he was actually Lord Lucan, who went missing at the time after being suspected of murdering his children’s nanny.

Once Stonehouse’s identity was revealed he was sent back to Britain and jailed for seven years in 1976 for theft, fraud and deception – only then did he quit as an MP.

John Stonehouse, the Labour MP who was presumed to have drowned, was found alive and well and living under a false name in Australia in the 1970s (PA)

Macfadyen said: “In (Stonehouse’s) mind’s eye he was Edward Fox, Roger Moore – one of those guys in an overcoat with the collar turned up.

“A case of, ‘Well, if I’m going to be a spy, I might as well enjoy it’. I imagine he created his own James Bond soundtrack in his head.”

The Pride And Prejudice actor added he played Stonehouse disappearing as if “he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown” which as his wife in the series “points out” was planned “very well in advance”.

He also said: “It’s that chutzpah, a sort of vanity, which I found fascinating. ‘I’ll just do it – it’ll work’.”

Hawes, 46, said Stonehouse’s “incredibly bright, confident and savvy” wife must have found it “horrendous, humiliating and deeply upsetting for her” and their children at the time.

They thought he was dead for five weeks to then discover he was in Australia and he had an affair with his secretary.

She added: “I think she was very strong and brave under the circumstances.”

Macfadyen said he thinks Stonehouse’s views on what politics does to people “resonates with events today”.

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Kevin R McNally of The Crown will play prime minister Harold Wilson (Ian West/PA)

The series will also star Showtrial actress Emer Heatley as Stonehouse’s mistress Sheila Buckley, Kevin R McNally of The Crown as prime minister Harold Wilson and All Creatures Great And Small’s Dorothy Atkinson as Baroness Betty Boothroyd.

The three-part mini-series will be led by Bafta-nominated director Jon S Baird, whose credits include Stan and Ollie, Vinyl and Filth, with BritBox International as co-production partners.

Hawes, who previously starred in spy drama series Spooks with Macfadyen when the first series aired in 2002, said working with her husband again “felt right” and “normal”.

She added: “Poor Emer, coming in with Matthew and I being actual husband and wife and then playing that character of Sheila.

“We laughed all the way through. We adored Emer.”

Stonehouse will begin on ITV on January 2 2023 before the full series is put on ITVX on January 4 2023.

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