Amazon has released its first Canadian true crime series, Prime Video’s The Unsolved Murder of Beverly Lynn Smith, which investigates the death of a 22-year-old woman from the Oshawa, Ont., area who was killed in her home in 1974, with her 10-month-old daughter in the house.
“I was gripped by the story right away and knew it had to be my next project,” showrunner Nathalie Bibeau told Yahoo Canada.
The Unsolved Murder of Beverly Lynn Smith comes out with a number of twists and turns in the first two episodes alone, including through the information we hear from the key suspect in the case Alan Smith, who was the subject of an elaborate scheme by police who were convinced he was responsible for Beverly’s death (yes they have the same name, no they’re not related).
“Al has a volatile effect that invites a world of curiosity,” Bibeau said. “There are countless facets to his personality and his emotional experience as a human has been so complicated that it was difficult to know, on any one day, what facet would come to the table that day.”
“From a filmmaker standpoint, that is quite a gift to be able to work with someone like that, who is open and who is willing to share all of themselves, and he is an eccentric soul. Certainly, I think, his behaviour and his demeanour beg a lot of questions and we wanted to show that because he allowed us access to that part of himself. But he did surprise me, I would say, every single time I filmed with him.
The connection between Beverly and her twin sister
The series also tells the story from the perspective of Beverly Lynn Smith’s family, including her sisters and now grownup daughter. Her twin sister, Barbara, says at the outset of the series that the night of Beverly’s death she felt a “severe pain” at the back of her head, before learning that her twin sister had been shot at the back of the head.
“It was clear to me from the start that the family of Beverly Smith needed and deserved to be heard in this series,” Nathalie Bibeau said. “They have suffered from a lack of answers for so many decades,...that was always a touchstone for me, I kept coming back to it and it helped, I think, to make Beverly feel as if she was coming to life in the series.”
“There are a lot of studies out there that talk about the bond of twins and that physical kinetic connection that they have,…but what I found was so moving is that actually, her sisters too nodded to the fact that Barbara needed this solved and that Barbara was responsible for keeping on top of the police, keeping in touch with them, making sure they did not forget Beverly, even though many years would go by.”
While some true crime documentaries can lean into a more sensational element of the crime, that’s not the case in The Unsolved Murder of Beverly Lynn Smith, it’s much more grounded and cinematic.
“The vision that I developed for the series was to shift the conversation on true crime and look at the emotional impact of crime, rather than descend into a cold forensic plot development, which is fine for some genres but it is not what we wanted to do,” Bibeau said. “This story is much too nuanced, much too emotional with too high stakes to treat it in that sensationalist and exploitive way.”
“So we chose to apply a cinematic treatment and metaphorical treatment to the story, so that we could tap into the universal themes that were present and do justice, actually, to all the nuances in the story.”
When it comes to what Bibeau wants audiences to take away from the series, she hopes viewers ask themselves what they think is just.
“One of the themes in this series is the long flawed arm of justice,” she said. “People always dehumanize justice but the truth is, justice is led and imagined by human beings, and human beings, as we know, are flawed.”
“How far should we be allowed to go in the name of justice? And how far would you want the police to go if it was your loved one who was murdered?”