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execrably

Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion

Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion is a two-part miniseries produced in 2003 by CBC Television. It presents a fictionalized version of the Halifax Explosion, a 1917 catastrophe that destroyed much of the city of Halifax. It was directed by Bruce Pittman and written by Keith Ross Leckie. The Film Stars Vincent Walsh, Tamara Hope, Clare Stone, Zachary Bennett, Shauna MacDonald and Ted Dykstra.

The series was expensive by Canadian television standards with a budget of $10.4 million. It was heavily promoted by the CBC and paired with a number of non-fiction documentaries. The broadcast drew a sizable Canadian audience of 1.5 million viewers. It drew some praise for the adept use of special effects to show the destruction of the explosion. However the miniseries was poorly received critically. One critic at the Globe and Mail described it as "execrably written and acted while another strained to find positive elements, "At times, there is a plodding workmanlike quality to Shattered City. The large scale of the production guaranteed a number of Canadian television Gemini Award nominations in 2004 and the miniseries won awards for photography, special effects, costume and sound but was passd over for any direction or writing awards and won only a single supporting acting award for Ted Dykstra.

Serious concerns were raised over the depiction of history in the miniseries. Descendants of explosion victims and professional historians objected to the historical distortions and numerous liberties with historical truth. Significant deviations include:

  • The addition of a major subplot featuring German spies in Halifax (the Germans conducted little significant espionage anywhere in North America and none in Halifax during the war).
  • The movie does not convey the tsunami which followed directly after the explosion.
  • A conspiracy that frees the captain of Mont Blanc and the naval commander Frederick Wyatt leaving Mont Blanc's pilot, Francis Mackey, as the fall guy for the explosion. In fact, Wyatt was the only person sent to trial for the explosion and was subsequently acquitted by a jury of Halifax citizens.
  • Commander Wyatt is depicted as a British officer (he was Canadian) and is shown pushing for relaxed regulation of ammunition handling (he actually argued for stricter regulation) and refusing to approach the burning Mont Blanc (he was in fact boarding a harbor tug to direct firefighting when the explosion occurred). Similarly, captain Le Medec is depicted as a coward who was first to abandon his ship when in fact he was the last to leave it.
  • In the aftermath of the explosion the film depicts only minimal emergency relief capability until American assistance arrives by train, when in fact there were ample Canadian resources available and the first American aid didn't arrive until two days afterward.

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