A Review of September Dawn

I saw an advance screening of the much anticipated September Dawn on Wednesday night. I’ve spent the week at the Kirtland Temple and the local theater invited all the staff here to a free screening. (I wonder if they issued a similar invitation to the LDS Mormons down on the flats in the LDS Historic Kirtland area… If so, I’m pretty sure that none of them showed up.)

For those not already aware, September Dawn is the new Dain Cain film about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. You can see the trailer for it here: http://www.septemberdawn.net/

If you don’t want to color your impressions prior to watching this thing, come back to this review after you’ve seen it.




I have to say that I didn’t like the movie. I spent too much time cringing at what the people were saying to get into it. The big quotes said by Brigham Young and Joseph Smith, including BY’s famous blood atonement discourse and JS’s “Alcoran or the Sword” quote (attested in an affidavit by Thomas B. Marsh were real quotes. However, the crazy things that individual fictional characters in the movie were saying, e.g. “I will do my duty to the Mormon God Brigham Young” were a mess.

In the end, I don’t think that either society was portrayed realistically. The Fancher party seems to have been using immigration to California as an excuse to hold constant Protestant church services — they have about 5 before they are finally wiped out. In one, the benevolent prayer of the Protestant minister (the father of the female love interest) is contrasted directly with the sinister malevolent prayer of the Mormon bishop (the father of the male love interest). Whereas I agree that the Fanchers were innocent victims of the Mormons, I don’t know that they were a pack of traveling monks.

The portrayal of Mormon society is worse. The Mormons are seen as long established in Utah, with well developed farms, towns, tabernacles and even temples. In one scene, after the Fancher party is already at Mountain Meadows, the bishop takes the male lead to “the temple” to have his endowments. Of course, no Mormon temple existed west of Lyman Wight’s temple in Zodiac, Texas. The only place that Brighamites were having endowments done was the Endowment House in SLC. The distance between Cedar City and Salt Lake City is thus ignored — which also muddies the situation of Brigham Young’s involvement in the massacre. In the movie, the Fancher party is already camped at Mountain Meadows when Brigham Young orders their destruction. That error (along with other carelessness) is a get out of jail free card for people who may want to defend BY against the charges made in the movie.

In the end, on the Braveheart scale of historical accuracy, this thing as a whole is more accurate than Gladiator (whose score of “0” is approximately the same as Pirates of the Caribbean’s rating). It’s probably also better than Braveheart’s score of 1. It’s probably more like Titanic’s score of 2.

Cross-posted here. 


John Hamer is Executive Director of the John Whitmer Historical Association, "the Center Place for the history of the Latter Day Saint movement." He is currently working on an Atlas of Mormon History.

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6 Responses

  1. exmoron says:

    Thanks for the review. I’ve been wondering if it is going to be any good. You answered that. It’s a shame that potentially revealing films about Mormonism spend so much time on things that just aren’t true when the truth is so shocking it doesn’t actually need embellishment.

  2. Demon of Kolob says:

    The movie is by Christopher Cain. Dean Cain is his actor son who plays Joseph Smith in the movie.

  3. I went to the same screening and LOVED IT!!!!!!!!!

    I have to diagree with John. I think he needs to read up on this true event in history. Although it is not a pleasant depiction of what happened, it seems to be pretty accurate as deemed by several Mormon historians.

    Although I am not much for “Love Stories,” that aspect didn’t bother me that much. I thought the chemistry was great between the two young actors.

    I do have to say that my only real complaint is that the violence, although on the border of being unbearable in this film, was artistically portrayed compared to the actual historical death of this innocent wagon train. In reality, children’s heads were beaten in with rocks and they were stripped naked to be eaten by animals.

    I feel it is an important film worth seeing and beautifully crafted.

    The official website offers some educational links to check out for yourself:


    I would suggest drawing your own conclusion…But I thought this was a great movie with a great musical score… much better than Braveheart!

  4. JohnHamer says:

    Demon, you’re right — I accidently colluded Christopher Cain and Dean Cain in my head. However, the one was the director, the other is an actor.

  5. Zelph says:

    Interestingly enough, Richard Dutcher defends the film, saying that it is told from the point of view of the Fancher party, which point of view rarely ever gets told. I think that is an interesting and well taken point. The film isn’t balanced itself, but it is more of a balance to all the white-washed versions in a way. However, from everything I have heard, it sounds like it will be a pretty bad movie.

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