Whodunnit? Could it be Kate Hewlett (third from right)? The actress plays Clara in CBC's new TV movie Still Life: A Three Pines Mystery. -- CBC
Watch enough TV and you'd think the average country hamlet boasts a homicide rate to rival Winnipeg's
. Twin Peaks
, Hemlock Grove
: TV mysteries have long loved the concept of a murder in a small town. (You know, let's add Murder in a Small Town
to that list.)
And this Sunday, CBC viewers can visit another sleepy community unusually riddled with crime: Three Pines, Quebec.
Still Life: A Three Pines
mystery is based on the first of nine novels by author Louise Penny. A former CBC Radio host, the author's current book, How the Light Gets In
, debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times
Best Seller list. With a readership like that, many viewers are already as well-acquainted with Three Pines as they might be with Cabot Cove
, even if you could never find it on a map. (By that we mean it's a fictional locale, though it's based on the villages of Quebec's Eastern Townships, where Penny herself lives.)
But the first time Kate Hewlett heard of Three Pines, she was preparing for her part in Still Life. Upon reading the book, Hewlett says she was struck by a few things. She loves stories like this, for one thing -- tales about small towns with a "slightly odd dynamic." She's even written a TV script with a similar concept. (Known for TV roles on shows such as Degrassi and Stargate:Atlantis, Hewlett's also written for a variety of shows including InSecurity and The L.A. Complex). Another stand-out detail from that first read: Still Life's tone, she finds, is so different from others in its genre. It's "a character-driven murder mystery" - a story that lingers on the relationships and day-to-day lives of its characters, rather than solely chasing a string of clues.
Hewlett plays Clara. She's an artist and a recurring character in Penny's books. When we open the film, her best friend's been murdered, struck through the heart with an arrow. And when the Surete du Quebec arrives to investigate, led by the thoughtful Inspector Armand Gamache (Nathaniel Parker), she's unofficially recruited to assist with the case.
"I think there's something fascinating about knowing everyone in the town and being surprised by what people are capable of," Hewlett says, reflecting on why TV mysteries are so often set in idyllic little backwaters like Three Pines. "The bad guy is not a stranger in the park who jumps out at you, that's not usually the way that terrible things happen. So many murders are domestic disputes or jealousy or rage, these long simmering arguments. And I think that's why the small town thing is so intriguing. You all know each other, but do you ever really know anyone?"
To make the mystery come alive, the production travelled to the region that inspired the people and places of Penny's books. The entire film was shot on location, with most work done in Stanbridge East, Quebec - beautiful for its spectrum of fall foliage and the character of its rustic streets.
Hewlett says the entire cast and crew invaded the village for their two-week shoot; townspeople worked as extras and the whole cast had rooms at a local inn. "I think it made a big difference living all together," she says. "Whether you were acting or not acting, it sort of felt like it was the same dynamic. Everything was very natural," she says of experiencing small-town life for real during the production.
"I just felt like I really got to live it - except for the murder."
Still Life: A Three Pines Mystery debuts on CBC Sunday, Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. ET (8:30 NT).