Finding truth in history

Most south-end folks probably know Sir John Franklin more for the community club in River Heights than his cannibalistic and insane arctic expedition, which is revealed in Passage, a film by John Walker.

Inventive and intriguing, the film follows Walker’s hunt for historical accuracy in Franklin’s story, as it was documented falsely due to pride and secrecy. Walker combines documentary footage with dramatic action in order to place the viewer in a unique atmosphere of antiquity and realism.

It soon becomes apparent that the film is not about Sir John Franklin as much as it is about the ill-treatment of John Rae, who broke the news of Franklin’s failure to the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Embarrassed that her husband had failed in finding the Northwest Passage and that the crew had turned into mad cannibals, Lady Franklin attempts to re-write history.

Rae is soon discredited, although his work for the HBC has had monumental effects. The sweeping cinematography of Rae’s hometown beautifully highlights bleak northern England, showing allure in a land characterized by its blandness. Contrasting this with the colourful interpretations and reenactments of Rae’s life gives viewers a vital understanding of life in the 1800s.

Combining documentary with drama sometimes has a mingled effect in the film, but following Rick Roberts as he studies for his role as Rae humbles the energy of the film.

Passage draws similarities between the quest for the Northwest Passage and the battle to the moon in the 1960s. Both have been entrenched in scandal about historical accuracies and cover-ups.

A 2008 selection for Hotdocs, the film is sufficient to be shown in high school history classes and actually keep the attention of the students. It’s showing as a part of Cinematheque’s In the Shadow of the Company program, which includes several films and workshops focused on the Hudson’s Bay Company.

John Walker will be hosting a master class in which he will comment on working with historical material in films.

The film’s actors are all seasoned English veterans, teaching viewers more about history from their interpretations than from the documentary aspect of the film.

Walker reveals Rae and Franklin’s stories as truly heartbreaking, proving that time can’t heal all wounds, and changing our perception of truth in history.

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