Produced for Canadian TV last year and only now making its U.S. debut, this fact-based miniseries will nonetheless look awfully familiar to aficionados of true-crime docudramas. In true network tradition, it’s a two-night, four-hour exposition of a grisly murder and its aftermath. On a cold night in Manitoba in 1971, four drunk, joyriding teenagers forced a young woman into their car. The next morning, her nude body was found near a lake; she had been stabbed to death with a screwdriver. Although one of the suspects brags about the killing, the case hits a dead end when much of the town closes ranks around the boys, all of whom are white, and tries its best to forget about the victim, who was Cree.
Conspiracy of Silence does a fine job of portraying a community’s casual bigotry, from racist jokes at the local coffee shop to the kind of stereotyping that leads locals to conclude that the slain girl must have been either an alcoholic or a prostitute (in fact, she was a student). But when it comes to the most compelling aspect of the case — the fact that it took 16 years for the Canadian Mounties to gather enough evidence for a trial — the film wobbles, partly because it lacks a sense of period (surely 1971 and 1987 didn’t look that similar, even in a small town in Manitoba), and partly because its pace is, well, trudging. If you stick around until the end, you’ll get to hear the Canadian version of the Miranda warning, but in Conspiracy of Silence, the wheels of justice grind very, very slowly. B-