The Work and the Glory

The Steed family moves from Vermont to Palmyra, New York in the late 1820’s. Once there, they settle on some land outside of town and start to clear it for farming. The two older sons, Nathan (Alexander Carroll) and Joshua (Eric Johnson) are attracted to Lydia (Tiffany Dupont) the daughter of a shop owner. The work is difficult and Mr. Steed (Sam Hennings) hires the two Smith brothers, Joseph (Jonathan Scarfe of ABC’s 2004 telefilm Judas) and Matthew (Colin Ford), to help.

 

Before long, the Steed family hears rumors that Joseph has seen angels and has buried gold on his land. Joshua, who is very sweet on Lydia, argues with his father over his independence, leaves home and joins a bunch of rabble-rousers who end up stalking Joseph.

 

Meanwhile, Nathan questions the good-natured and hard-working Joseph about his visions and the gold tablets. He comes to believe in Joseph, as do his mother and sister. Mr. Steed, however, is adamant about his family’s links to Joseph and fires Joseph and his brother, Matthew. When Joseph’s Book of Mormon is published, Steed refuses to have it in the house.

 

But a day is coming when Joseph is going to call believers together, and this sets the rest of the film in motion – including who gets the girl and who gets to follow Joseph. We are never sure what Joseph believes in.

 

The Work and the Glory has good production qualities but is a thinly veiled fiction about Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormons – based on a series of novels popular among Mormons. When my sister and I were thinking about seeing it we checked RottenTomatoes.com and the write-up for the film from Excel Entertainment is somewhat disingenuous: “Two of the Steed brothers contend for the favor of a wealthy merchant’s daughter, and they find themselves on opposite sides of the religious question. As the family struggles to smooth the contention, they find themselves twistedinto deeper issues of family loyalty and the pursuit of truth.”

 

So we went to see it only to discover that the film is about more than “a religious question” – it’s an attempt to present a very sympathetic and romaticized version of the life of the founder of the Mormons without a lot of detail. It preaches religious tolerance, and this is always a good thing. But it doesn’t encourage critical thinking because we never find out exactly what Smith stands for; maybe that’s what the filmmakers want. The Steeds just follow the charismatic Smith (the one with the shining blonde hair)  to a feel-good ending. And aren’t we a happy family – but happy about what exactly? I think audiences are smarter than this film gives them credit for. At least I hope so.

 

One thing that bothered me was that the film seemed to smoothly promote that Joseph Smith believes in God as Christians do, and that Joseph’s beliefs are found in the Bible. But in reality, Mormons are not Christians in the theological or technical sense because they do not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ – though they believe he is God’s son.

 

The film didn’t last long in the theaters, but one comment on ww.imdb.org made me smile. It said that that this isn’t as boring as other church films he saw on mission. That’s true. It wasn’t boring.

 

I don’t want to seem unkind. It just wasn’t the movie I thought it would be from the write-up. When my expectations are not met, then I am always a little disappointed. And when it seems I am being presented with the whole picture when I am not, well, that’s irritating.

 

 

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