The Backstory: Scott Speedman stars in a new biopic about Edwin Boyd, Toronto’s most notorious stick-up artist

The Backstory: Scott Speedman stars in a new biopic about Edwin Boyd, Toronto’s most notorious stick-up artist

On September 9, 1949, Edwin Boyd—a war veteran and the son of a respected Toronto cop—got drunk and robbed a Bank of Montreal branch on Avenue Road near Wilson. It was the first bank he’d ever robbed. Over the next three years, he held up 10 more, becoming a national folk hero in the process.

Boyd was a resolute showman: before every heist, he’d paint his face with rouge and mascara and stuff his cheeks with cotton balls. He escaped from the Don Jail twice—once using hacksaw blades smuggled into the hoosegow in an accomplice’s wooden foot (which is still on display at the police museum on College Street). The news of Boyd’s second breakout interrupted the CBC’s first-ever Toronto broadcast in 1952, leading the Toronto Star to dub him TV’s first celebrity. After an elaborate manhunt (and a then-unprecedented reward offer of $26,000), Boyd and his gang were finally smoked out of their hiding spot, an old barn near Yonge and Sheppard.

The real-life Boyd

Scott Speedman, the former Felicity hunk, nails the hammy thief in an eponymous big-screen version of the Boyd story, which premiered at last years’s TIFF. With its moody palette, slick cinematography and Black Keys–heavy soundtrack, the film brings the same high theatricality to Boyd’s life that he brought to his crimes.

Until now, Boyd’s only imprint on the pop culture landscape was a dorky 1982 made-for-TV movie starring Gordon Pinsent. Nathan Morlando, the director of the new film, grew up hearing stories about Boyd from his uncles, who had been teenagers in Toronto’s east end during Boyd’s heyday. Morlando sought out and interviewed the ex–bank robber—paroled and living under an assumed name in Victoria, B.C.—many times before Boyd died in 2002, and got to know the man behind the makeup.

The film shows the long-term consequences of Boyd’s bank-robbing spree—14 years in prison and the destruction of his family—but is at its best when it embraces his wham-bam caper antics. “I know I shouldn’t say this but, geez, I loved robbing banks,” Boyd once told an interviewer, and in the frenetic heist scenes, Speedman’s Boyd is clearly in his element. He storms through the bank doors, eyes crinkled with mischief, eating up the attention. He knows it’s not going to last forever, and he’s intent on having fun while it does.

Edwin Boyd
Directed by Nathan Morlando
In theatres now

(Image: Speedman courtesy of IFC Films; CBC broadcast courtesy of City of Toronto Archives)