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  1. MINISERIES TheStar.com | Television | Witty look at Richler's vanished Montreal Witty look at Richler's vanished Montreal var imageL= '275796_3.JPG' if(imageL) { document.write(''); } else{ document.write(''); } David Julian Hirsh plays the adult Jake Hersh in St. Urbain’s Horseman. Adaptation of beloved St. Urbain's Horseman a sophisticated TV drama Sep 19, 2007 04:30 AM JIM BAWDEN Television COLUMNIST "This was the one I wasn't sure would ever get finished," chuckles screenwriter Joe Wiesenfeld. "There were at least two previous attempts to bring (St. Urbain's Horseman) to TV. Then there was a separate treatment Mordecai Richler made for a movie, but even he wondered if it was cinematic," says Wiesenfeld, who adapted Richler's Governor General's Award-winning novel for television with Gerald Wexler and Howard Wiseman. The two-part, four-hour miniseries airs tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. on CBC. Considered one of Richler's best novels, if not his finest, St. Urbain's Horseman is a leisurely study of Montreal's St. Urbain St. right after World War II. At the centre of it all is teenager Jake Hersh (Max Morrow), who has an obsession with his older street-wise cousin Joey (Jacob Tierney) that he carries into his adult life. Life is dominated by his pushy, neurotic mother Sarah, played to the hilt by Andrea Martin, and his influential Uncle Abe, a warm, memorable cameo turn from Elliott Gould. Later Jake will move to England, engaging in a friendly rivalry with best friend Luke Scott (Gabriel Hogan) to determine who'll become the next great film director. Guiding his every move is his pure love for proper English lady Nancy (Selina Giles). CBC executive program director Kirstine Layfield says she could have passed on the project, "but I saw it was quality, had the Richler name, and we went ahead. We're giving it special play before the U.S. season really gets going. "Miniseries are hard to sell in this TV market with so many channels, but I think the production is compelling and it's something to be very proud of." What emerges is a witty, sometimes acerbic look at a vanished Montreal culture done with some sophistication – the kind of high-level drama rarely seen on TV anywhere these days. "Keeping everything true to Richler, that was a big order," says director Peter Moss, who guided the $7.4-million production through an intense two-month shoot last fall in Montreal. "It's really a story of two cities, Montreal and London. But we had to turn back the clock to the forties in Montreal and the fifties in London without leaving Montreal." Moss credits cinematographer Norayr Kasper and production designer Donna Noonan for many feats of illusion. St. Urbain St. had changed so dramatically (it is now one-way), a street further east in a francophone neighbourhood, Garnier St., was substituted. Scenes shot in a London TV studio had to be duplicated in Montreal – there was quite a hunt for vintage equipment. And, adds Moss, "When I redressed a street to look like London, I invited Selina to come and take a look. She's from Britain and very critical and she said she couldn't tell the difference. "It was very expensive in terms of costumes, getting the cars right, those kind of details. So I needed experienced actors, ones who liked working very hard indeed. Somebody I wanted right from the start was David Julian Hirsh as the adult Jake. For one thing he's Jewish and from Montreal so he gets Richler right away. And he's the right age, too (34)." Where else to reach Hirsh but at the Highland Gardens hotel in beautiful downtown Hollywood? The Highland Gardens is the delightfully decrepit hotel facility mainly catering to Canadians trying to make it in L.A.'s TV movie game. But it was also the site of the wacky mockumentary Camp Hollywood, which Hirsh and partner Stephen Markle shot there in 2004 – it subsequently won a Gemini as best documentary. Hirsh admits it's "a bit crazy" that St. Urbain's Horseman is the second Montreal-based project in which he's appeared in as many years. The other was the rollicking sex farce Naked Josh,which ran for three seasons on Showcase, casting him as a nervy sexual anthropologist. "I knew Jake as soon as I finished the book," Hirsh says. "I recognized so much of what I encountered growing up decades later. French Quebecers do have a love/hate relationship with Richler. So does Montreal's Jewish community. It's a sophisticated story we're telling and it requires four hours of viewers over two nights. But it doesn't have TV's usual bag of clichés." That's why we initially see Martin as Jake's mother as a comical creation – it's only in her last scene as she leaves London to return to Montreal that she reveals she knows she's an old harpy but can't help herself. And Michael Riley as Jake's "buddy," the vile but fascinating Harry Stein, runs the gamut from practical jokes to sexual antics with a willing starlet using Jake's home – until both Jake and Harry are arrested and tried as sexual perverts. "Oh, a lot of this is autobiographical," Wiesenfeld says. "Richler did go to London to make it but as a writer not a director. And I'm convinced wife Nancy, played so beautifully here by Serena Giles, really is his own wife."