Reel Toronto: I Was a Rat
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Reel Toronto: I Was a Rat

A quirky BBC movie gives our city, and some local thespians, a chance to shine.

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TV movies are a sticky business, folks. Quality-wise, they tend to range from “ew” to “that was surprisingly not-terrible!” Most are unremarkable in any way except in that (as you will see) they provide a fun opportunity to see some of our finest stars of stage and screen appearing in weird, random roles. We’re going to bet you haven’t seen or likely even heard of I Was a Rat, which, we’re afraid, is not some amazing mafia flick à la Goodfellas that somehow slipped your notice. That said, it still has a surprisingly good pedigree.

Initially filmed under the title Cinderella & Me in 2000, it ultimately went by the name of the book upon which it’s based—a book written by none other than Philip Pullman (whose The Golden Compass used a grand total of one shot from Toronto in its own film adaptation). It is, as the title suggests, about a young boy who used to be a rat, and it’s a post-modern fairy tale kind of thingie, slightly similar in tone to Jacob Two-Two and the Hooded Fang. It’s also got some rather impressive talent in front of the camera, including multiple Oscar winners (e.g. Brenda Fricker, Ned Beatty), recognizable character actors (like Tom Conti, who played the prisoner who fixed Bruce Wayne’s back in The Dark Knight Rises!) and some wonderful Canadians popping up when you least expect them

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This film is set in the 1920s in England, and that means you need some nice Victorian architecture. Well, the Distillery District is your one-stop-old-timey shop! You can see it right in this first scene…

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…and again here…

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…and we think for this market, here…

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…and the Stone Distillery’s wonderfully imposing facade plays an orphanage here. (Don’t worry, they don’t take the kid to the orphanage after they see it. What they don’t realize is how wonderful the preserved architecture inside is!)

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You will also not be at all shocked to know they filmed at our own quasi-castle, Casa Loma. Here are the exterior gardens…

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…and here is the oft-seen Conservatory playing a restaurant. Hey, that waiter looks familiar…

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…why, if it isn’t theatre star Stephen Ouimette!

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And you’ve got to love Don McKellar’s turn here as a Fagin-type who wants to exploit our ratty hero.

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Why, here he is with Sheila McCarthy!

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If you have a Fagin, you also need collection of Artful Dodger types, and here they are. Hey, despite the British accent, that loveable urchin on the right looks a bit familiar…

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…it’s young Bramptonian Michael Cera!

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If you’re thinking, “Gee, this is the sort of movie where even Fiona Reid is likely to pop up as a judge with a funny name,” well, you just won the lottery!

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The main kid is a west-coaster named Calum Worthy, who is now part of the same Disney Channel machinery that made Selena Gomez a star. If you’re lucky enough to have kids who won’t let you change the channel, you probably recognize him from Austin & Ally. If you don’t, well, one day you will, rest assured!

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We mentioned Ned Beatty earlier, and indeed, here he is playing a newspaper editor. The paper’s digs are played by the very handsome offices of the Ontario Heritage Trust, at 10 Adelaide.

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The exterior is seen here.

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At the movie’s end (spoiler!), our hero finds himself locked up and studied in some kind of institution.

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It’s easily recognizable as the ol’ R.C. Harris filtration plant

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…also seen from the outside, when he makes good his escape.

I Was a Rat is a curious creature (no pun intended), and we know it seems rather wonky, but it was nominated for a BAFTA (the British Oscars) and a Gemini and won two awards at the Banff Television Festival, which is very prestigious indeed. Whether you’re a Don McKellar completist or fan of rodent stories, it might be worth a gander.