September 19th, 2010

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TV Movie Review: The 19th Wife

Minor spoilers for this one, but I don't give away the ending.

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I'm not a fan of Lifetime Original Movies, but The 19th Wife was a good book.  A really good book.  Well written, tense, interesting characters--it had it all.  And so I thought, why not check it out?  After all, as a story about the evils of polygamy with a gay male protagonist and some prominent romantic subplots, I could totally see why Lifetime viewers would be interested in it.  How badly could Lifetime mess it up when everything they wanted in a story--evil patriarchy to rail against, strong female protagonists to stand up to them, romance--was laid out in the original text already?

The movie starts in the same way the book did.  Jordan Scott, a young college student and exile from a radical Mormon sect, finds out that his mother--the 19th wife of one of his former sect's leaders--has been accused of murder.  He rushes home to find out what happened, despite his mixed feelings about his mother since she allowed him to be exiled.  He finds not only is his mother in peril, but so is his best friend Queenie; she married the love of her life, and together they're resisting the order from above for hubbie to take more wives.  Jordan has to find out whether his mother really is a murderer, help Queenie and her husband without revealing that he's returned to Utah (since he's been excommunicated, returning risks his life), and uncover the buried secrets of the sect that ruled and destroyed his life--where did polygamy begin, why did it begin, and why does it still have such a hold on his former home?

From the beginning of the movie, Queenie took a larger role in the story.  She has a small role in the book, occasionally showing up to give Jordan information and to update him on what's going on with her husband and the latest rumors from home.  However, as this movie was for Lifetime, the audience would be pretty much all women, so it made sense that the writers would play up a female protagonist.  Besides, her romance in the book is captivating; her and her husband, him so in love he refuses to take another wife, the two of them standing alone against the powerful LDS elders telling them they're acting against God with sinful monogamy!  Sure, Lifetime viewers would love that, and it could be fun to see.

Except the writers mangled it.

All the scriptwriter(s) had to do was take Queenie's conversations in the book with Jordan, where she tells him of all the things her husband does to defend her, and voila!  Instant romance.  But no.  Instead the writers decided they wanted to turn Queenie's husband into an ass, and make Jordan fall in love with Queenie.  Which is not only stupid, it's disgusting, because...

IN THE BOOK, JORDAN IS GAY.

I'm astounded at Lifetime's decision to take a gay character and make him straight.  And I don't mean I'm "surprised" and speaking hyperbolically, I mean I'm jaw-dropped-down-to-my-knees astounded.  Aside from the fact that it makes everyone who had a say in this movie look like homophobic asses, it did nothing for the plotline, took away from a romance viewers would have loved, and turned Jordan's character from an interesting, thoughtful young man into a cardboard hero who's doing everything for the girl he loves.  Gag.  Judging by the author interview on the official website, he's not thrilled with the change either; he mentions he hopes viewers will pick up the book so they can get to know Jordan.

Lifetime took a book that was perfect in every possible way for their viewership and messed it up in ways even someone like me who doesn't like them is surprised by.  Well done, Lifetime.  You've topped yourself with this one.