For 15 years, we’ve been inundated with stories about Elizabeth Smart. Particularly here in Utah.
How, at the age of 14, she was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City bedroom by Brian David Mitchell and held captive for the next nine months. How, hope against hope, she was found alive.
But you’ve never heard it like this: from Smart’s own mouth in the two-part “Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography” (Sunday and Monday at 10 p.m. on A&E) and the TV movie “I Am Elizabeth Smart” (Saturday, Nov. 12, at 6 p.m. on Lifetime).
“You may think you know my story, but the truth is you don’t,” she says as the TV movie begins.
“I Am” is not about the search, it’s about what happened to her while others were searching. “Autobiography” features a variety of voices — family members, law enforcement, witnesses — but the focus remains on Smart.
“Autobiography” is stunning in its simplicity. In a head-and-shoulders camera shot, Smart speaks frankly about her ordeal. It’s chilling and inspiring.
That narrative is translated into “I Am Elizabeth Smart,” which is gripping and ghastly.
Rape was never mentioned in the “The Elizabeth Smart Story” in 2003; in “I Am,” we see Elizabeth (Alana Boden) dragged from her home and raped by Mitchell (Skeet Ulrich) as Barzee (Deirdre Lovejoy) prays outside. It’s not graphic, but it is appalling.
The scene cuts to the real Smart, who says, “Do you want it to stop? So did I.”
Ulrich and Lovejoy are terrifying, and Boden brings that terror to life. Smart’s narration could have come across as a gimmick — but it works. We see a strong, determined Elizabeth Smart.
After watching the two programs, I’m even more astonished that Smart handled herself so well in front of a room full of cynical TV critics. She was open, honest and composed.
She can recount how she “was raped every single day — sometimes twice a day.” And she can joke about how what should be a quick trip to Costco “usually turns into an hour and 20 minutes” because so many people approach her. And that happens more, she says, when “I look like a hot mess. … I’m thinking, ‘No! You shouldn’t recognize me right now! Why don’t you notice me when I look nice?’ Maybe I should take more time to get ready sometimes.”
Not that she minds the attention. Except maybe when (as we learn in “Autobiography”) people ask her how, after her ordeal, she can have sex with her husband.
“Well, probably the same way everybody else does,” Smart says with a touch of exasperation.
“Don’t get me wrong. I am human. Some days I’m, like, ‘Really?’ ” Smart says. “But I don’t know if I could ever move away from Utah. It’s kind of become like everyone’s my family. I love the people who live there because they cared so much. It was everyone keeping the story alive and vigilance that brought me home.”