MONTREAL- Justin Trudeau is billed as the star of the CBC television series The Great War, now being filmed to commemorate next year's 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele.

But as Mr. Trudeau arrived yesterday on the set at the national Defence Department firing range in St. Bruno, Que., to shoot battle sequences, his presence was overshadowed by the 145 extras in the movie, all of them descendants of men and women who fought in the First World War.

The four-hour series, directed by Brian McKenna, is unusual in that it is part documentary, part drama, and part a living history project: The descendants are living on the set for two weeks as grunts in basic training, enduring conditions similar to what their ancestors experienced in Belgium.

There are no iPods, cellphones or radios to distract them during the film shoot. Except for their underwear and T-shirts, their personal belongings were taken from them. They were issued the itchy military uniforms they wear as they are put through their military paces in the stifling heat. Communication with the outside world is by mail --just as it was 90 years ago.

Among the participants is Louis-Philippe Milot, an insurance adjuster from Montreal. His great-uncle, Adelard Milot, was shot down and killed by German flying ace Capt. Manfred von Richthofen, the infamous Red Baron, on April 8, 1917.

"We're shooting blanks, but when we recreate these battles for the cameras, it becomes very emotional," he said. "I'm proud of my family's military history. It is quite something to know that French and English Canadians fought together. French Canada's sacrifices on the battlefield are often ignored or overlooked. This is a film that French and English Canadians will be able relate to and be proud of."

Mr. Papineau was a dashing figure who might have been one of the country's leaders had he not been killed at Passchendaele on Oct. 30, 1917. He was one of 16,000 Canadians to die in the bloody four-month battle that began July 31, 1917, and established Canadian troops as an elite fighting corps.

"I'm discovering my limitations as an actor," Mr. Trudeau said. "I play one role very well, and that's the role of Justin Trudeau. There are different facets to that, and I enjoy that thoroughly.

Getting into Papineau's skin, Mr. Trudeau said, allows him to remind Canadians of how important the First World War was to the development of our country.

"People are confused about our role in the war in Afghanistan. They say we are not a military power. To say that is to disregard and forget the sacrifices many of our grandparents made in World War I and II."

When he was made up for the role, Mr. Trudeau said, he was struck by his resemblance not so much to Talbot Papineau, but to his maternal grandfather, James Sinclair, who fought in the Second World War and later served as a Vancouver MP and minister of fisheries in Louis St. Laurent's government.

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