Friday, March 8, 2013
CBC's Jack: Unabashedly CanadianJoe;
Sunday night on CBC comes a sturdy new biopic Jack and it's highly unusual.
It's a Canadian TV movie made by Canadians for Canadians with no pandering to assure international sales.
Jack is CBC-TV's unabashed love letter to the late great Jack Layton. It premieres on CBC Sunday night at 8.
"I'm not even ordering up an international print for possible sales," chuckles executive producer Lazlo Barna.
Last season Barna's CBC TV movie of Don Cherry sold in just one international market.
"It sold in Finland," Barna declares. And he sincerely doubts even Finland TV will not be interested in the saga of Canada's first socialist Leader of the Opposition.
Shot In Winnipeg "purely for costs" the once over lightly look at the politician shows what a good and decent man he always was. But missing is any sort of dramatic conflict until his final fight against cancer. That's because and so rare among politicians Layton was respected and even admired by all sides.
Rick Roberts gives an in depth portrayal as Layton. Roberts looks the part and eerily captures the essence of the man.
The starry Canadian cast includes Sook-Yin Lee as devoted wife Olivia Chow,Wendy Crewson as chief of staff Anne McGrath, Erin Karpluk as a rival Conservative operative, Zachary Bennett as NDP National Director Brad Lavigne, Joel Keller as Karl Belanger, Victoria Snow as Layton's sister and Diana Ha as Chow's mother.
Says Barna "Crewson asked me to be in it, she believed in it. And we got the great cast needed to make it."
It seems CBC has a real love affair with politicians of the left.
Over the years CBC movies have tackled the lives and achievements of Laurier, Mackenzie King, Tommy Douglas and Mackenzie King.
Hey, what about the right?
By contrast a proposed multiple episode look at Sir John A. Macdonald got cancelled last year after only one episode.
And Sir Robert Borden, John Diefenbaker, Brian Mulroney? So far CBC has resisted dramatizing their lives.
Barna has always veered to Canadian subjects in his long and honorable Canadian TV producing career. The last time I interviewed him in person was for the fine 2008 TV biography of Celine Dion which was shot entirely in Hamilton with Hamilton Place substituting as a Las Vegas night club.
Among his series success: Blue Murder (2001-04) and Da Vinci's Inquest (1998-2005) which ran 91 episodes.
These days Canadian shows are cynically being made made for a quick sale to the U.S. market which means not mentioning the country of origin and using Canadian stars known to the American market.
Says Barna: "I call this the summer rep period for Canadian TV. For the price of a pilot an American network gets a series they can show in the summer. But that does not interest me."
With Jack Lazlo is back to telling the Canadian stories he prefers.
The screenplay by Andrew Wreggitt skillfully unfurls Layton's life during the tumultuous 2011 campaign that saw the NDP become the number two national party for the first time.
Director Jeff Woolnough has fashioned an interesting juxtaposition of actual news footage intermingled with dramatized episodes as Layton faces increasingly difficult health issues.
It's been less than two years since Layton's death which took place at the height of his political triumph.
"That's the theme," Barna says. "At the apex he certainly didn't deserve it. But he was plucky. He fought on. No self pity which is great."
Rick Roberts scores heavily as Layton and achieves an eerie physical resemblance he says came about by getting his head shaved. "I studied the shots of him, how he walked and spoke." And Roberts lives in Layton's old riding of Broadview-Greenwood which must have been some help.
"Says Roberts: "He was the optimist. Always strumming the guitar. Guitars were always right there. I mean he broke the Liberal stronghold and he broke the BQ in Quebec. But he always thought he could do it. I wanted to capture that energy, that ability to convince voters."
I've been covering Roberts since he co-starred on Global's Traders. Then came a year stint in L.A. making the CBS drama series L.A. Doctors (1998-99) but Roberts moved right back to a Canadian sitcom (An American In Canada) that should have lasted longer. In 2011 he played Mayor Clarke on Republic of Doyle.
Roberts says he's been mulling over a life of Mackenzie King either on stage or TV.
The fact Jack was made so soon after Layton's death makes the movie a bit uncritical.
But it does show the inner workings of Canadian politics.
And it demonstrates how Layton never faltered in the message he so believed in. And then four months after his greatest success he was dead.
JACK PREMIERES ON CBC-TV SUNDAY MARCH 10 AT 8 P.M.
MY RATING: ***1/2.