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The middle-aged man lies on a filthy mattress, his wrists shackled by chains. There is fear and boredom in his drawn gaze and he seldom takes his eyes off his kidnapper, a young man with a swagger, a Polaroid camera and a French-Canadian accent.

It's a Quebec accent, to be precise. This hostage drama has zero connection to the Middle East or Europe. The place line is Montreal in 1970 and the terrified man on the floor, played by veteran actor R. H. Thomson, is James Cross, the British trade commissioner who was kidnapped from his Montreal home on Oct. 5 and held for two months by members of the Front de Libération du Québec.

By the time he was freed in December, 1970, another FLQ hostage, then-Quebec minister of labour Pierre Laporte, had been strangled by his captors and Canada was a changed country.

Armoured tanks were patrolling the streets of Montreal and Ottawa, along with 7,500 troops, who arrested and detained more than 500 suspects, including writers, artists and journalists. Political violence, once confined to war-torn hot spots, had come to the Great White North.

Now, more than 35 years later, the drama is coming to TV as an eight-part series.

It's written and co-produced by Wayne Grigsby, the same man who brought two Trudeau miniseries to the small screen.

Shot in Montreal and Halifax, October 1970, which is to be broadcast this October, is more police thriller than political drama, which is how Grigsby wanted it.

"The idea was to take the story back to the street level, where it started," Grigsby said in an interview at Halifax's Electropolis Studios, where a set has been built to replicate the seedy north-end fourplex where Cross was held by young, jittery members of the so-called Libération cell of the FLQ, led by Jacques Lanctôt. A different faction, the Chénier group, later took Laporte.

Grigsby, a Montrealer who was 23 during the crisis, depicts the young kidnappers as naive, impulsive idealists who failed to foresee the tumult their actions would provoke.

A secondary storyline tells the story through the eyes of Montreal Police lieutenant-detective Julien Giguère, the man in charge of the anti-terrorist squad, who, on October 4, 1970, has 12 officers working for him. The next week, he had a staff of 112 and was under enormous pressure to find the hostages.

Executive producer Laszlo Barna said few Canadians -- be they English- or French-speaking -- know the facts about what happened that October.

"There is no collective memory at all," Barna said in a telephone interview from Toronto. To illustrate his point, he recounted a recent conversation he had with a young francophone graduate student in Montreal, who thought the October Crisis referred to the Oka standoff (between Mohawk natives and Quebec provincial police in 1990).

"If we don't look at this moment in our collective history, we can't learn from it."

Barna, who was a student at McGill in 1970, said the October Crisis was a seminal moment in Quebec history, when its citizens rejected violence "once and for all." After Laporte was killed, the FLQ, as a political force, died too.

"The subject matter is fraught with politics," Barna continued, the chief questions including: Was the War Measures Act really justified? Or was it an excuse for English Canada to clamp down on sovereigntists? The miniseries doesn't take a political stand. It simply dramatizes the events as they played out.

At the time, the FLQ, a leftist, nationalist movement, had support from students and radicals impatient with the slow pace of Quebec's Quiet Revolution.

"Here's a rip-roaring yarn about some naive, but spunky kids who kidnap political targets, thinking it will all be over fairly quickly and they'll get what they want," Grigsby said. "And they misunderstand the nature of the political regime, they misunderstand what kind of reaction there is going to be."

(Others would argue that the FLQ -- in word and deed -- was not so naive. In the years leading up to the October Crisis, it was responsible for a wave of bombings on Anglo symbols and institutions from federal mailboxes to the Montreal Stock Exchange. The attacks killed two people and injured dozens.)

The miniseries begins the morning of Oct. 5, 1970, when armed men from the Lanctôt-led group dragged Cross from his Montreal house. They demanded the release of 23 imprisoned FLQ members, $500,000 and passage to Cuba. They also wanted their so-called manifesto broadcast on radio or television.

Five days later, the Chénier faction kidnapped Laporte from his front yard, where he was playing touch football with his family.

Grigsby depicts the Libération cell as the more idealist of the two groups, whose members believed the Quebec government would agree to their demands, Cross would be returned and the kidnappers would spend the rest of their days in Cuba.

One of the series' lighter moments comes when kidnapper Marc Carbonneau, played by Normand Daneau, gets fed up with his colleagues and quits in disgust.

He leaves the house and walks into a café only to see his face on the cover of Le Journal de Montréal. Terrified of being recognized, he races back to his apartment, rifles his wife's closet and returns to the kidnappers' hideout dressed as a woman for cover.

Meanwhile, Montreal police, under pressure from Ottawa to find the British diplomat, also miscalculated, Grigsby said, overestimating the size and organization of the FLQ.

The cop in the eye of the storm, Lt.-Det. Giguère, was bombarded with thousands of tips per week, most of which went nowhere.

Grigsby's main source of reference for his script was the 1980 report by Jean-François Duchaîne commissioned by the Quebec government.

The report reads like a novel, Grigsby said. Among the nuggets: The decision by then prime minister Pierre Trudeau to suspend Canadians' civil liberties -- now viewed as an abrogation of individual rights -- is depicted as a last-ditch effort by an overwhelmed police force. The idea for the War Measures Act came from the City of Montreal's lawyer, who was ordered by his bosses to find a legal way to detain suspects.

The series takes a dark turn when Laporte is killed, a moment Grigsby said is shown in terrifying detail.

He said Laporte's death instantly killed any sympathy Quebeckers had for the kidnappers.

"Essentially, it stopped the FLQ in its tracks. Anyone who had toyed with the idea of political violence as a way to get there, stopped. It just went cold. And Quebec society just turned its back on the FLQ in a way that's quite remarkable."

On film, Laporte's killing is depicted as accidental. The day before he was killed, Laporte injured himself trying to escape through a window. The next day, in a weakened state, he panicked again and began screaming. His kidnappers tried to subdue him and grabbed him in a chokehold.

"It's really important to zone in on what the consequences of that act were, and how shocking and awful it was. We wanted to make sure that moment was as horrifying and terrifying as it must have been."

It's a bitter irony then, that this Quebec drama, whose cast is made up almost entirely of French-speaking Quebeckers, won't be broadcast in French.

When Grigsby and Barna pitched the series two years ago, they hoped it could be shot in both English and French, and broadcast on both CBC and Radio-Canada. But Radio-Canada refused the project, citing other priorities, a decision that still rankles. "I hope that one day it will get there in dubbed or subtitled version. But it should have been there as a double-shoot, because we had the resources to do it," Grigsby said.

"They [the actors]did a great job in English, They would have done a brilliant job in French. And it's absolutely a scandal that the national public broadcaster couldn't get its act together to make this happen.

"And it's not like the CBC didn't try. The responsibility is entirely on the [Radio Canada]side."

Cast members are also puzzled. "When something is a part of history, it belongs to everyone," Daneau said. "Lots of people in Montreal will see it. It will create a debate." Daneau, who was a baby in 1970, said the issue is taboo in Quebec.

"I'm glad it's being made," he said. "It will put in our face what we didn't want to see for so long," he said.

Radio-Canada, for its part, said the network rejected the co-production because the subject matter has been done exhaustively in Quebec.

"In terms of the October Crisis, we've had documentaries, we've had movies," said Radio-Canada spokeswoman Marie-José LeBlanc. "There have been numerous different platforms where the October Crisis has been featured and documented.

"It's nothing new for our audience."

Thomson is among the few English-speaking actors in the series. To prepare for the role of Cross, he studied archival footage of interviews conducted with the diplomat after the crisis, as well as recent footage of Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Sooden, who are still missing after being kidnapped in Iraq last fall.

Thomson said Cross's even-tempered personality was the antithesis of Laporte's. Laporte fought and panicked in his captivity.

Despite his calm demeanour, Cross believed he would be killed. "When he heard the manifesto being read on TV, he prepared himself for his death," Thomson said.

"He was not a religious man, but he knew that he would see his wife again [after death]and this idea gave him comfort. He made for himself a mental place where he could go."

Thomson said the diplomat felt no sympathy for his captors. "There was no Stockholm syndrome with him. He hated them. He forgave them, but he hated them."

Fanny La Croix plays kidnapper Louise Lanctôt, the older sister of Jacques Lanctôt. Cross called Lanctôt "the witch" and said he feared her the most.

"She grew up in a household where she was overshadowed by her younger brother," La Croix said. "She saw her uncles working at [factory]jobs and she wanted control."

In his research, Grigsby interviewed some of the real-life players, including Giguère and Jacques Lanctôt, most of whom live in Montreal.

"After all the dust has settled," Grigsby said, "everyone except Pierre Laporte is getting on with their lives."