The story of John Stonehouse may be little known stateside, but you almost wouldn’t believe the tale told in BritBox‘s three-part drama Stonehouse spins if it wasn’t based on true events.
Following the rise and fall of MP John Stonehouse’s (Succession‘s Matthew Macfadyen) career, the ’70s-set tale examines his climb up the political ladder as a member of Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s (Kevin R. McNally) cabinet through which he forges secret relationships not only with shifty figures in Prague but with his secretary Sheila Buckley (Emer Heatley).
These secrets begin to pile up in unfathomable ways to the point where John just can’t take it anymore and he decides to fake his own disappearance by traveling to Miami and continuing on to Melbourne, Australia. Of course, not all will go according to plan. As part of the Labor Party, Macfadyen tells TV Insider, “Stonehouse was an up-and-coming MP who was first given Minister for Aviation, and then he became Postmaster General.”
The actor describes Stonehouse as an “underling” to Wilson who must deal with the secretary like a “parent with a promising but ultimately recalcitrant teenager.” Despite the charisma and power he undertakes, Stonehouse fumbles it all. But even still, viewers shouldn’t take every detail for factual truth as a disclaimer at the beginning of each episode warns that some elements are dramatized for the purpose of the series.
Still, Macfadyen and McNally both took levels of preparation to inhabit their roles inspired by real-life figures. “I looked at lots of pictures and video of him and read around the subject, and then you sort of forget all that and just played the script,” Macfadyen admits. “During the process, you’re talking with your fellow actors, and the director an awful lot. It’s very important to know that you’re all in the same show.”
As for McNally’s approach, the actor says, “I think it sort of should be obvious that this is not documentary. I wish there was a time when you didn’t have those disclaimers because actually, this show is more true to reality than any I’ve ever done. And I know because I was there in the early seventies,” he remarks. “So there really aren’t a lot of liberties being taken in my personal opinion.”
The real entertainment though comes from John’s inability to reign himself in as he makes one bad decision that continues down a path of various missteps. “He gets in over his head,” Macfadyen says plainly. “It’s so beautifully written. It’s sort of all there for you. I think really good scripts look after you in that way. As an actor, you jump in.”
The part isn’t a far cry from Macfadyen’s Emmy-winning role as Tom Wambsgans in HBO‘s Succession. Similarly to Stonehouse, the Roy family member by marriage found himself in a new position of power that viewers will have to wait and see in action when Season 4 arrives this spring. “It’s just great fun playing those flawed, silly, vain men,” Macfadyen rejoices.
Equally, as fun, Macfadyen gets to play opposite his real-life wife Keeley Hawes who portrays Stonehouse’s wife, Barbara. “We were pinching ourselves,” Macfadyen says of the gig. Despite having worked together on projects in the past, he says, “it was really nice to have a bit of time at work together and to see each other and, and act together.”
They certainly have an interesting onscreen dynamic as does Macfadyen with McNally. Don’t miss the personal and political connections when Stonehouse streams on BritBox.
Stonehouse, Series Premiere, Tuesday, January 17, BritBox
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