Wright’s Clara Callan will be TV series
Stratford filmmakers Craig Thompson and Rick Whelan will produce multiple episodes
Time, patience and a dinner date with the late St. Catharines novelist Richard Wright paid off for two Canadian film makers.
Stratford-based friends, producer Craig Thompson and playwright Rick Whelan, are in the midst of bringing Wright’s award-winning novel “Clara Callan” to life on the small screen.
Back in 2001 when Wright’s ninth novel debuted, Thompson and Whelan each read it. The playwright in Whelan immediately saw its potential, and through connections, was excited when Wright agreed to meet for dinner at a St. Catharines restaurant.
The author was sold on a screenplay, but securing the rights to it was a whole other challenge.
Simply put, it was too expensive.
Set in Ontario in the 1930s, the book tells the story of two sisters, Clara and Nora. After the death of their father, Nora takes off for big-city life in New York to pursue a career as a radio soap opera star. Meanwhile, Clara stays behind and lives simply as a school teacher, but struggles as an independent woman living in a conservative rural community.
It deals with difficult issues including rape and abortion, suicide, depression and the consequences felt by strong, independent women who dared test conventional expectations.
The book won the Governor General’s Award in English fiction category, the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Trillium Book Award. Wright died in 2017 at age 79.
“I was so taken with the story,” said Whelan. “Wright had a wonderful understanding of human beings.”
He especially enjoyed the strong independent women characters and was intrigued by the enormity of Clara’s transformation from the beginning of the novel to the end.
“She represents every woman’s battle to become the navigator of her fortunes,” he said.
“She fights and she suffers. She fights and she suffers.”
In 2015, they finally obtained the rights to turn the book into a screen adaptation. And then the work began.
“The biggest job I had is that the book is so full of storytelling, and I only have 110 pages of screen play to tell the story,” said Whelan.
The creative struggle became what to leave out, which characters to focus on and which ones to combine.
“I enjoyed it immeasurably; it’s such a good source work,” he said.
After multiple drafts and permutations, they are in the process of securing funding for a multi-episode TV series. The expectation is to begin filming in locations across southern Ontario in fall 2019 or the following year. The novel is set over four seasons. The series will be ready to watch by 2020 or 2021.
Whelan had lunch with Wright in Hamilton shortly before his death. He was excited to hear the project was moving forward. “He was curious,” said Whelan.
And while the novel is set in the 1930s, and was published in 2001, it’s perhaps more relevant today than ever, said Thompson.
“It’s about women having a voice,” he said.
It’s also about realizing an author’s ambition to see his novel on a screen, said Thompson.
In his words: “To know the dream Richard had in his lifetime is finally coming to pass.”
To follow the progress, visit Ballinran Entertainment’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BallinranEnt.
Stratford-based filmmakers Rick Whelan and Craig Thompson are adapting the late novelist Richard Wright’s book, Clara Callan, into a limited TV series.