Movie Review: The Work and the Glory
November 24, 2004
Genre: Drama and Romance
Director: Russell Holt
Producer: Scott Swofford
Distributor: Excel Entertainment
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Format: Limited release in theaters.
The Work and the Glory, is directed by Russ Holt, who introduces Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the LDS or Mormon Church), to his viewing audience through a brilliant means�historical fiction. This combination works well for fictional books cast in a true historical setting, so why not Joseph Smith? For students of Mormonism, though, The Work and the Glory leaves serious questions unanswered about Smith's history where hard evidence contradicts the film. Alas, Holt overcomes this by portraying Smith in the least controversial light and blocking his audience's access to Smith's most controversial side. In this vein, the film protects Smith, but the writers certainly must know of the nine variations in Smith's 1820 First Vision and likewise his bedroom visit by Moroni (or was it Nephi, as originally published?).
The drama begins with Joseph Smith, Junior's new neighbors, the Steed family (a fictional family), who moved to Palmyra, New York in 1826. The Steeds hire Joseph and his brother Hyrum as laborers on their newly purchased land. Smith's bad reputation as a story-teller draws teasing from town folks about his purported visions: �got that gold Bible yet?... what does that angel look like?... do you think angels go around telling people where to find buried treasure?�
The Steed family's middle brother, Nathan, favors Joseph and stands against the town folks by inquiring about his �gold bible.� Joseph tells his story, which matches the Mormon scripture version, about his confusion over joining churches. He urges Nathan to hear him with tender words as he rehearses the revival story when, as he says, �I was about 14.� This is where director Holt takes liberty, since the oldest available record says that Smith was 15 and he also once wrote that he was 16.
Christian denominations get no charity from Smith, who vilifies them as fighting. In one instance, Smith makes a (fictitious) Christian preacher say, �The Bible says God has already decided on who will be saved, so I admonish each of you to search your hearts to see if God has elected you.� On that note a man in the service shouts to the preacher that he is preaching false doctrine. Truly there is no historical record for this incident, so where did the writers get it?
Smith continues telling Nathan about his doubts, �I wondered who of all these parties were right? Or are they all wrong together? If anyone of them be right, which is it? And how can I know it?� This is directly quoted from modern Mormon scripture as is the subsequent scenes where Smith encounters a bright light after prayer in the woods. With interest Nathan questions Smith on the two beings that appeared in this light.
Joseph summarizes, �I saw God, Nathan, and I saw his Son Jesus Christ, I know how that must sound to you, but I say again I saw God the Father and I saw his Son.� Curious Nathan responds, �What did they look like?� Smith continued describing them as glorious humanoids but wraps it up with the stern warning that these beings forbade him to join the churches.
Nathan becomes a believer in Smith and his Book of Mormon. The scenes switch to Nathan's girlfriend, Lydia, who struggles with this idea, but later converts too. This film portrays Joseph to be a noble, hardworking man and dedicated to his only wife, Emma. On April 6, 1830 the church is restored and begins growing through conversion and baptism. It's a �feel good� movie designed to create affinity with Smith.
Insider's View of Mormon Origins by Grant H. Palmer
The Work and the Glory is based upon a series of novels by the same name. Holt drew his talent base from Mormon actors in a number of television sitcoms and a few films. This is a must see movie for any student of Mormonism to evaluate the character of Joseph Smith (according to the Mormon church), since his character can never be altered even in a �fictional film.� The film, however, is not receiving high marks by other reviewers. It even scored poorly in the Mormon Church's own newspaper, the Deseret News, which gave it a 2.5 out of 4 in their review.
Last Modified January 27, 2005