October, 1970

ENGLISH-ONLY CBC MINISERIES does a great job of examining the human dimension of the October Crisis

"October 70"

Who would have thought: a group of top-notch Québécois
actors shooting in English in Halifax, an eight-hour series on the 1970 October crisis, written and directed by anglophones ?
Well, it happened. On Thursday CBC will, start airing October 1970, described as a "detective thriller, hostage drama and political nail-biter".
At the press screening, I saw the first two episodes. If the rest is as good, co-writers Wayne Grigsby and Peter Mitchell will have succeeded in writing an exciting, sophisticated and informative dramatization of a hugely important event few have dared to tackle.
One big problem: This quality series on a crucial event that occurred in Quebec isn't sheduled to air in French. Here's hoping for a French version, pronto.
Relying in good part on the 1981 report on the October crisis by Jean-François Duchaine, Grigsby and Mitchell reconstruct, with the right dose of poetic licence, a highly complex, politically-loaded crisis lived by
a multiplicity of actors - Front de Libération du Québec members, politicians and police, all with contradictory interests.
The writers also took on the drama's human dimension for all these actors. That what makes October 1970 different from the few movies made on a subject that's either forgotten or taboo.
Michel Brault's magnificent film Les ordres showed the appalling way nearly 500 innocent Quebecers were treated in jail. These were the victims of the War Measures Act, passed before Pierre Laporte was killed, which suspended civil righs and allowed police to arrest people without warrants.
As for director Pierre Falardeau. his haunting film Octobre focused on the experience of tbe Felquistes who kiknapped British Trade Commissioner James Richard Cross and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte.
To carry this huge story, director Don McBrearty assembled a cast of the best young actors in Quebec, whose trademark, I find, is the powerful intensity with which they practise their art.
They're all good. But Mathieu Grondin as FLQ member Jacques Lanctôt and Hugo St-Cyr as Paul Rose stared out. So does Patrick Labbé who portrays Detective Julien Giguère, head of Montreal's first anti-terrorist police squad. R.H. Thomson as Cross and Denis Bernard as Laporte deliver stunning performances.
The series captures the utter improvisation and amateurishness of many of those involved in something they hadn't experienced before, including police, politicians and the terrorists themselves.
It also gives the straight goods on an array of determining factors in that crisis. Not the least of these were that the FLQ's struggle wasn't against the English per se: That explains why there was an anglophone member in the FLQ cell that kidnapped Cross - Nigel Hamer.
This was the end of the 1960's and the era of "decolonization." The FLQ was in fact an anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist, pro-workmg class group. And in Quebec, most of the working class was francophone: But the FLQ went astray and turned violent.
As October 1970 set designer Jennifer Stewart put it: "This is a gritty, working-class story".
Like his mellow actors, Mathieu Grondin was apprehensive when he was approach to do a series on October 1970 written by two anglos. "I was a bit afraid that it alight be Quebec bashing." And as recent articles by Barbara Key and Jan Wong have shown, bashing Quebec is not a figment of the imagination.
"But," he added, "I was amazed at how objective the script is." Be they sovereignists or federalists, these young actors, who weren't even born when the crisis unfolded, underlined how much they learned about their history and their society through doing this series.
Today, as the Western world faces new, stronger forms of terrorism, the series resonates even more. "Once you start suspending civil rights," Grigsby said, "you change the nature of the world we live in. Post-9/11, we need to look carefully at the impact of government decisions on civil rights and whether diminishing our freedom is really necessary".
Have we really learned our lesson from the War Measures Act?
October 1970 will begin
_ on CBC-TV on Thursday, Oct. 12 at 9 p.m.

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