SET VISIT: Frankie Drake

It takes a few cranks to start this vintage Model T — just like my Saab

GUELPH, Ont. — I took a step back in time this week as I visited the set of the upcoming CBC historical drama Frankie Drake.

The 11-episode, first season order is set in the roaring twenties. Lauren Lee Smith (The Listener) stars as Drake, a kick-ass lady detective patrolling the mean streets of muddy York. By her side is her trusty assistant Trudy, played by Toronto’s Chantel Riley. Versatile Riley dazzled for four season on Broadway in The Lion King.

Frankie Drake star Chantel Riley with one of her biggest fans

The series hails from Shaftesbury, the same folks behind Murdoch Mysteries. Look for it late this fall on Mondays behind Murdoch, which should make for a tidy one-two night of historical mystery-drama.

Cal Coons is EP and Showrunner, the same dual function he served during the first two seasons of Murdoch. He explained that the new show was in Guelph this week to take advantage of the local air field, a simple two-way air strip surrounded by rural hills and trees — in other words, nothing that might give away the fact that the 21st century has encroached. The setting is supposed to be an airfield that actually existed back in the ’20s in Leaside.

Vintage cars, including a Model T Ford purchased for the series, were on display. The airport was turned into a fair grounds, with booths and games as well as a bandstand where a “most beautiful baby” contest was underway. There were over 60 extras in period costume roaming the grounds. I borrowed a straw hat at one point to keep from burning up under the hot July sun. A costumer pointed out that the hat was truly vintage and valued at over 350 bucks, suggesting it was worth more than my head. Nobody disagreed.

There were also several cool airplanes, including a few WWI replica biplanes that had nothing to do with the production and just happened to be in Guelph as part of a flying war plane heritage tour.

The replicas, built to seven-eights scale in 2003, were Nieuport 11s, wood and canvas French aircrafts similar to the ones flown into dogfights by Canadian flyboys during the First World War. These same replicas were flown in France in April as part of the ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The pilots who flew them into Guelph were dressed in leather helmets and grey coveralls. The planes are making several stops across Canada this summer, along with replicas of Sopwith Pups and an SE5.

The Frankie Drake aircrafts were more of the de Havilland Tiger Moth variety, the classic yellow trainers used to prep RAF pilots. The canopied version, above, helped Canadian flyers get over the chill of winter.

If Frankie Drake doesn’t work out me thinks CBC could have another unscripted hit in the works

Ran into pilot episode guest stars Lucas Bryant (Haven) and Charlotte Sullivan (Rookie Blue) in fancy costumes. They were mingling near the runway as the parents of one of the beautiful baby contestants. Almost didn’t recognize Sullivan who has switched hair styles from a platinum blond to a dark brunette. Smith has also re-done her ‘do, sporting red locks as flapper Frankie.

The 37-year-old actress had a visitor on the set — her year-old youngster — who could have taken a trophy or two in the episode’s baby contest. Mom, however, says she has the tots acting career on hold for now.

Leslie Hope, the Canadian actress killed off at the shocking, season one conclusion of 24, was behind the camera as director of the pilot episode. Frankie Drake is an equal opportunity employer, with seven of 11 episodes written by female writers and most episodes also directed by women.

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