MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

Wojeck’s dead but long live Durgens, MP

And long live the CBC. They’ve found the stuff that plays are made of

JOCELYN DINGMAN February 1 1967
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

Wojeck’s dead but long live Durgens, MP

And long live the CBC. They’ve found the stuff that plays are made of

JOCELYN DINGMAN February 1 1967

Wojeck’s dead but long live Durgens, MP

And long live the CBC. They’ve found the stuff that plays are made of

JOCELYN DINGMAN

Dingman on television

WELL, Quentin Durgens gets my vote. Take an honest, plain-spoken, tough-minded member of parliament, with as pretty a secretary as you could hope to find in Ottawa, and a constituency a couple of hours away by train, and you have the ingredients of another engrossing television series. Wojeck may have died, but the CBC drama department has been reborn. It has found, at last, a way to reach out and grab us, by holding a mirror — or rather a series of mirrors — up to life, showing us ourselves struggling with our own problems, against genuine Canadian backgrounds.

I like American television, and The Defenders was my favorite television series of all time, but we are different from them; our police are different, our lawyers are different, and our judges and members of parliament are very different indeed. So is our law: what a novelty, for instance, to have abortion or car theft dealt with according to the Criminal Code of Canada.

The CBC has done some magnificent television drama in the past, especially on the Festival series, but much of it, like Pale Horse, Pale Rider (about the 1918 flu epidemic), has been by American writers and American actors. On the more recent Silent Night, Lonely Night, Frances Hyland was supposed to come from California. But Wojeck and Quentin Durgens show that Canada has writers, producers and photographers with the craftsmanship to make good, workmanlike drama out of the stuff of our own life.

Shooting a great deal on location — using real newspaper offices, grocery stores, hospitals and houses, instead of building sets — gives the plays a sense of reality which their creaky plots sometimes lack. And the idea of having one writer do a relatively short series, and then quit, gives the characters a dramatic unity they could never have if different writers started fooling around with them.

In fact, this year’s dramatic television series may well be the beginning of a development as important as the CBC Sunday night Stage series, back in the old days of radio in the 1940s and early 1950s. The Stage series was a kind of national theatre which, week by week, interpreted Canadians to each other. It just may be that we have something like this going for us now. Ron Weyman, the producing genius behind the new television concept, says Canada has vast and colorful possibilities as a background for filmed drama. Perhaps we’ll have to wait for spring and Hatch’s Mill, a series about pioneer Ontario, to know for sure.

Meanwhile Gordon Pinsent, as Durgens, is as utterly convincing as John Vernon was as Wojeck and, to me, much more likable —perhaps because he makes more jokes. I laughed aloud about 17 times as well as shedding actual tears in the CBC screening room over the first episode, in which Durgens tangled with the Parliamentary Press Gallery and the senior members of his party over an impulsive question in the House. I was particularly impressed by the strong Ottawa flavor of the story — the scenes in the House and the Parliamentary Library and cafeteria, the ubiquity of French-speaking secretaries and MPs, the irritation of the politicians with each other and the press, the prevalence of tired old men at the top.

Durgens is an honest man, and he may be something of a maverick, but he’s definitely a political animal. He can lay on the charm pretty thick when he’s trying to get a favor from a minister, and take it like a man when he loses. He also manages to deal with genuine problems — parliamentary privilege, obscenity, pensions, immigration. Naturally it all comes out more likely and exciting than the day-today life of an average MP — but then that’s what fiction is for.

The new format offers endless possibilities — we could have series about doctors, social workers, lawyers and legislators from Newfoundland to British Columbia. To do the next series, I’d like to nominate writer Paul St. Pierre of Vancouver, and that stolid band of Indian actors who made How To Break A Quarter Horse (recently rerun on Festival) and The Education of Phyllistine. I bet St. Pierre has half a dozen more good plays about the Cariboo country in him — and I’d like to see them all.