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Film review: 'Joseph Smith: Plates of Gold' resonates with Mormon youths

By Laura (LC) Lewis

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Aug. 28 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Dustin Harding with youth from the Frederick, Maryland Stake.

Laurie Lewis

In a unique marketing move, producers of “Joseph Smith: Plates of Gold” launched their project in small venues in the East, building buzz for this distinctive film before its Utah premier. The first Maryland showing was in an art museum before an audience of about 120, half of which were youths.

There was no popcorn, viewing was slightly obstructed and the audience sat on noisy folding chairs. But once the film began, the squirmy guests stilled.

The casting of Joseph and Emma, performed convincingly by R. Dustin Harding and Lindsay M. Farr, and a bold script power this emotional, enlightening film. Planned as Part 1 of a trilogy, this installment covers only a six-year period — 1825 through 1830, focusing primarily on the courtship and marriage of Joseph and Emma, the struggle to obtain and protect the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and greater detail on the translating process.

Harding is best known for his portrayal of the young Joseph in “The Restoration,” produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Harding attended the pre-launch showings in the East, answering audience questions and describing his tender experiences preparing for and filming the movie.

This is a historically accurate casting of Joseph and Emma, who were in their early to mid-20s during this exciting, often tumultuous period. Their innocent vulnerability resonated with the young people in the room, while Harding’s personal appearance and testimony of Joseph Smith as a Prophet left an indelible impression.

“Seeing a young Joseph most definitely hit me," said one of the youths, Christine Marsh. "He was the age of my brothers. It made me think about what he had to go through.”

When asked what she’d tell others about the film, Amy Hoffmeier, another youth from the Damascus Ward, said, “I’d probably tell them that there’s a lot of stories about Joseph Smith and so many questions about what he did and didn’t do, and this movie confirms what he really did in his life.”

Speaking with Harding provided special insight into this film for Marsh, who said, “Each Joseph Smith movie has its own way of making me feel the Spirit."

Her favorite part? “The devastation on his face when the plates were lost. You don’t really think about the emotions Joseph went through”

Ryan Schlenz, a youth from the Walkersville Ward, particularly enjoyed the depth and historical detail in this film. “I like that it’s a trilogy, so they can go into depth. I really liked seeing the courtship of Joseph and Emma.” When asked what he learned from this film that was new to him, he answered, “Watching the translation process, how (Joseph) got better at it. I didn’t know that before.”

Harding greeted audience members before and after the film, including 6-year-old Tianna Southwick and her mother. He showed Tianna photos of his own two daughters.

Harding was proud of this project for hitting some topics that will inspire people to study deeper. "So many members don't know how the translation took place," he said. "I think it's neat to open members' minds and have them search a little deeper into the history behind it."

Laurie LC Lewis is the author of the award-winning FREE MEN and DREAMERS historical fiction series. Volume 4, "Oh Say can You See?" was released in 2010. Volume 5, "In God is Our Trust" is set for an October 2011 release.

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