John Cardinal leaps from the page to TV in CTV’s excellent, atmospheric Cardinal

On paper, Detective John Cardinal is a man of few words. The central figure in Giles Blunt’s Cardinal book series prefers to keep his thoughts on investigations in his head, much to the dismay of his co-workers and partner, Lise Delorme. The fact Cardinal isn’t one to share his intuitions was a challenge actor Billy Campbell embraced.

“I love that kind of stuff, particularly because I have fewer lines to learn,” Campbell says with a laugh. “No, it’s this kind of brooding thing. [Director] Podz and I were talking [before production began] and he said, ‘If you could give one adjective to describe Cardinal, what would it be?’ I said, ‘tortured.’ And he said, ‘Exactly!’ And a lot of that is internal. I like all that stuff that’s between the lines and you don’t see or get a lot of that on television.”

Impressive in scope, beautifully filmed and impeccably cast, CTV’s six-part serialized drama Cardinal—debuting Wednesday on CTV and Thursday on Super Écran—breathes life to Blunt’s first Cardinal novel, Forty Words for Sorrow. Filmed in and around Sudbury, North Bay, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek in Northern Ontario and Toronto, the project stars Campbell as Blunt’s tortured hero, who is called upon to track down the killer of 13-year-old Katie Pine. His partner is Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse), a recent transfer and someone Cardinal doesn’t trust. Additional cast includes Brendan Fletcher as Eric Fraser and Allie MacDonald as Edie Soames, a young couple in town; Deborah Hay as Cardinal’s wife Catherine; Glen Gould as officer Jerry Commanda; Kristen Thomson as Sergeant Noelle Dyson, Cardinal’s commanding officer; David Richmond Peck as Corporal Musgrave, an officer in charge of a tightly guarded investigation; Alanna Bale as Cardinal’s daughter Kelly; and Robert Naylor as Keith.

What executive producer and showrunner Aubrey Nealon (Orphan Black) and Podz (19-2) have done is successfully translate an atmospheric novel to the screen. You can feel the fear gripping the snowy community of Algonquin Bay after Katie’s body is found. Did a drifter commit the crime or someone in town? A washed-out colour palette, cold temperatures and chilling examination of the body all contribute to a feeling of dread, something that came off the page in waves.

“Giles was a big part of the project early on, and then he handed it off,” Nealon says during a break in filming. “As a fan of the novel, I respect his writing so much and wanted to be true to the novel while trying to find my own voice in it.” Some parts of Forty Words for Sorrow didn’t make it to the television series and other content was added. Nealon explains Cardinal’s internal monologue was vocalized through adding new characters and activating past cases referenced in the book and making them part of the current storyline.

“This is so different from writing Orphan Black because these characters were fleshed out and living and breathing [in the novels],” Nealon says. “I wanted to explore Delorme’s personal life a little bit more than happened in the books.” When it came to casting the lead role, Nealon was looking for someone with warmth and humanity that draws viewers in while also presenting a troubled side to him. They got it with Campbell. Pair that with Vanasse’s Delorme, a young, eager cop full of good intention, and the duo simply crackles on-screen.

“Lise made some choices in the past that were safer for her,” Vanasse says. “She is finding in this new role that this is something that she’s always wanted to do. The closer that she gets to Cardinal, working on the case, he moves her. She recognizes how invested he is in the case and follows her instincts more and more.”

Cardinal airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CTV and Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET beginning Jan. 26 on Super Écran.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

Greg David
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Greg David

Prior to becoming a television critic and owner of TV, Eh?, Greg David was a critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from hundreds of television series from Canada, the U.S. and internationally. He is a podcaster, public speaker, weekly radio guest and educator, and past member of the Television Critics Association.
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