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'In Emma's Footsteps' needs to show more, talk less
A production still from "In Emma's Footsteps" featuring actresses Shona Kay Moyer (Emma Smith) and Anne Sward Hansen (Lucy Mack Smith). - photo by Josh Terry
"IN EMMA'S FOOTSTEPS" 2 stars Shona Kay Moyer, Anne Sward Hansen, Liz Christensen; not rated; in general release

You cant judge Emma Smith if you havent walked a mile in her shoes. Thats the implicit message of In Emmas Footsteps, a film that explores the life of the LDS prophet Joseph Smiths widow in the aftermath of his martyrdom.

Told in flashback by the prophets mother, Lucy Mack Smith (Anne Sward Hansen), Brittany Wiscombes film draws on some admittedly scant history to re-create a series of events focused mainly in the first few years after Joseph and his brother Hyrum were killed by a Carthage, Illinois, mob in 1844.

Starting with the moment emissaries knock on Emmas door in the middle of the night to break the awful news of her husbands death, through continual mob persecution and the church's eventual departure west under the leadership of Brigham Young, In Emmas Footsteps views this transitional period of church history almost exclusively from Emmas perspective, attempting to correct misconceptions about the widows loyalties along the way.

At different stages of the film, always methodically introduced by Lucy, In Emmas Footsteps addresses the controversy surrounding church leadership succession and perceived tensions between Emma (Shona Kay Moyer) and Brigham Young. We see the birth of Joseph and Emmas last child and Emma's re-marriage after she opts not to follow the church west. And as if the internal pressures werent enough, the shadow of persecuting mobs remains a persistent threat.

Its an intriguing effort, and Moyer is solid and sympathetic in her portrayal of the prophets grieving widow. But In Emmas Footsteps is too often undercut by its own execution.

Swards performance as Lucy is strong which is good since she is basically required to talk the audience through the entire film. Her heavy narration sets up each scene with an excess of exposition, even to the point that she frequently identifies the date of the scene shes introducing.

This wouldn't be an issue if the film could put more of its action on screen, but most of the time, Emmas scenes are little more than conversations that take place in the aftermath of significant events. In Emmas Footsteps references several crucial moments in church history, such as the public debate where Brigham Young officially takes the mantle as the churchs next leader and the dramatic story of pioneers crossing a frozen Mississippi River in February 1847.

But by sticking so strictly to Emmas perspective, the film often feels more like a history lecture or a testimonial than a movie, and instead, we get lengthy scenes that unpack administrative controversies such as Emmas attempt to take over Josephs estate.

Part of this a good part of it can be attributed to the fact that In Emmas Footsteps is clearly working on a limited budget; the mob, for example, is rarely shown as more than a pair of cartoonish miscreants. But there is still a heavy tendency to tell its story when Wiscombes film should, as a feature film, be showing it to us. And without a driving focus, too often the final product feels more like a sequence of anecdotal passages than a directed narrative.

In Emmas Footsteps is an interesting attempt to address one of LDS Church historys lingering storylines, but its limitations in means and execution keep it well short of satisfying its potential.

"In Emma's Footsteps" is not rated; running time: 112 minutes.