Reviewed by Bill McKeever
The Work and the Glory is a three-part film based on Gerald Lund’s 9-part novel by the same title. Lund, a Seventy in the LDS Church, wrote the account around a fictional character named Benjamin Steed (Sam Hennings), a farmer who moves to Palmyra, New York in search for better land. His family is torn apart as a result of the teachings of the self-proclaimed prophet named Joseph Smith (Jonathan Scarfe). Reluctant to believe the wild claims by the young visionary, Steed watches as members of his family, including his wife Mary-Ann (Brenda Strong), accept Smith’s story of angels and gold plates. Joshua, his rebellious son played by Eric Johnson (nope, not MRM’s Eric Johnson) leaves the family and eventually ends up in Independence, Missouri. His personal animosity towards Joseph Smith (and the Mormons in general) makes him a leader in the drive to rid Independence, Missouri of Mormon emigrants arriving from Kirtland, Ohio.
I didn’t find much in the first film that I didn’t already expect. Joseph Smith is portrayed as a misunderstood man who is hounded by an unbelieving public. The script tries to be balanced by injecting many of the common accusations against Smith made by the detractors of his day; however, it does a poor job offering a believable rebuttal. As is common when Mormon history is retold, it is full of emotional aspects that tend to blur the actual facts.
American Zion, the second segment, begins in the spring of 1830 and covers the time period when the Mormons moved from Palmyra (NY), to Kirtland (OH), to Independence (MO). In a subplot similar to the film Legacy, which was produced by the LDS Church in the mid 1990s, Joseph Smith and his followers are looking for “Zion.” In a revelation found in Doctrine and Covenants 57:2-3, Smith proclaimed, “Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion. And thus saith the Lord your God… Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.”
The film accurately portrays the indignation the Missouri locals had for the Mormons. After all, it was no secret that Joseph Smith, by divine decree, claimed the area for his followers. Smith prophesied that if the Latter-day Saints were faithful, “ye shall assemble yourselves together to rejoice upon the land of Missouri, which is the land of your inheritance, which is now the land of your enemies” (D&C 52:42).
When the LDS printing press in Independence is destroyed and the Mormons are forced out of Independence, Smith, who at that time was headquartered in Kirtland, reacted by organizing what was known as Zion’s Camp, an armed militia of approximately 210 men. Smith prophesied that he was to lead this group of men “like as Moses led the children of Israel” to avenge God of his enemies and “break down the walls, ” throw down their tower,” and “scatter their watchmen…that by and by I may come with the residue of mine house and posses the land” (D&C 101:57,58).
As the film rightfully shows, Smith’s military expedition was an utter failure and the Mormons were prevented from setting up their Zion in Missouri. Characters in the film attempt to make excuses for this failure, not taking into account the warning that God allegedly gave Smith back in July of 1828 when He said: “For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him” (D&C 3:4). The idea that Smith could be a false prophet doesn’t seriously cross their minds. Sadly, many faithful Latter-day Saints paid dearly as a result of their allegiance to Smith.
The executive producer of The Work and the Glory trilogy is Larry H. Miller, a Mormon who heads one of the largest retail automobile dealerships located in six states. He also owns the Utah Jazz basketball team.
The third and final installment, The Work and the Glory: A House Divided, is scheduled for release in 2006.