CBC WWII spy drama X Company hits the mark

x-company-hero1I was snowed under with print deadlines yesterday so a day late with this but still wanted to draw attention to a fine show: X Company. It premiered Wednesday night sat 9 p.m. on CBC.

The World War II spy drama hails from Flashpoint showrunners Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern. They’ve kept this idea simmering on the back burner for nearly 15 years while Flashpoint and a few other projects got in the way.

X Company is about a band of skilled young espionage agents all trained at the same Allied spy camp. Part of the inspiration is an actual top secret spy camp that operated on the shore of Lake Ontario during WWII. There’s a highway plague as well as a few flag poles marking the spot today, on farmland close to Whitby, Ont. The place opened the day before Pearl Harbour was struck in Dec., 1941. It was strategically placed near a large munitions factory and 30 miles across the lake from the U.S. British intelligence trained Brits, Americans and Canadians at the camp. Documents about the operation were declassified in the mid-’90s. Ellis and Morgenstern sorted through them and could not believe this amazing Canadian war story had never been explored as a dramatic TV series.

Many of the spies trained at the facility went over to Europe and worked dangerous missions behind enemy lines. The first season of X Company was shot in Hungary which doubles for France. The pilot finds the young spy team scrambling all over a historic church and other small town, European settings.

Mark and Stephanie told me way back last June at the CBC upfront that they wanted the series to be aimed beyond war buffs and be something their teenage daughter would watch. Hence less emphasis on historical detail and more of a general will to make these characters seem contemporary and relatable. That’s a tricky goal to pull off but it seemed to work in the pilot. Bomb Girls, as fun as that series was, may have limited its appeal with a strict adherence to wartime styles. X Company walks the line between historical accuracy and brisk, modern-day storytelling.

Waiting to tell this story led to a key bit of casting: Hugh Dillon from Flashpoint brings his sniper sensibilities to the role of the camp’s commanding officer. The rest of the cast, like the camp itself, are a mix of Brits, Yanks and Canucks. Jack Laskey plays Alfred, a nervous individual who posses an extraordinary memory. A glance at maps on a wall and he can analyse battle plans and draw specific conclusions. It seems preposterous, but the character is based on an actual individual and British actor Laskey brings this brainiac to life.

Evelyne Brochu (Orphan Black), Dustin Milligan (90210), Connor Price (Being Human), Lara Jean Chorostecki (Hannibal) and Warren Brown (Luther) round out the engaging cast. Alfred would sneer at this flimsy comparison, but for a lazy shortcut to what X Company is all about think Mission: Impossible meets “Inglorious Basterds” meets The CW.

For more on the series, follow this link to my X Company feature in Wednesday’s Toronto  Star.

5 Responses to “CBC WWII spy drama X Company hits the mark”

  1. CBC has such a great line-up this season. X Company is just another example of a great Canadian Show! Loved it! My TV is tuned to CBC Monday to Friday primetime!!

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  2. JMD Ottawa

    X Company was at best confusing. Were they on an actual mission or a training exercise in the opening segment? I am still not sure. If it was a mission, it was beyond stupid. No one would rig a bridge with explosives in broad daylight in full view of an enemy-occupied town. I will give this series one more shot but from the initial episode, it looks like more CBC crapola

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  3. Nicholas Kinsey

    The CBC’s new TV drama X Company starring Hugh Dillon should be called “Flashpoint 1942″ since it draws inspiration from the original CTV show. Remember the little girl running onto the bridge to confront the German officer. That’s right out of Flashpoint 101. Throw in the most unlikely character into the explosive situation, anything to draw out the action.

    The series is total fantasy and has no basis in historical fact. Camp X never ran agents in France during the war. They trained agents for service under the British SOE which then ran the agents after additional training in the UK from London, England, not from Whitby, Ontario. The series is trying to rewrite history and is obviously made for domestic consumption since no one in Europe or anywhere else will believe in such a ridiculous premise.

    Canadians don’t need to lie about their past like Brian Williams to feel proud of their war effort. Think of Dieppe, the Italian campaign and Normandy. Canadians did their share and paid for it with their lives. The national broadcaster may be slipping in the twilight of its existence, but it needs to try at least to get a few facts right.

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  4. The first episode was painful. All the stereotypes of a standard, tired TV drama: the tough guy, the sensitive but brilliant guy, the nerd, the plucky but emotional girl, etc. Plus political correctness galore and pat, predictable dialogue. Not to mention confusing. At the end, did the team arrive back in Canada still dressed in same clothes? There was no opportunity in the days it would have taken them to get from France to Canada to even wash up?
    I tried to give the second episode a try and turned it off after a few minutes. That GI Jane thing was stupid and unbelievable.

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  5. Brian gray

    Great show, but….. April 1st show “Quislings” had two Germans speaking German with English sub titles which were mostly blocked out by the advertising for upcoming episodes and Watch declassified training films at cbc.ca/company. Great to know, but try to do the advertising when there’s no sub titles.
    Great show other wise….Brian

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