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.