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Lifetime offers melodrama with 'Escape From Polygamy'

Published August 8, 2013 10:29 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cable TV network Lifetime is jumping on the polygamy bandwagon.

Later this month the station known for lowbrow melodrama will air the ingeniously-titled "Escape from Polygamy." According to the press release, the "independent film" is about a recently widowed woman and her 17-year-old daughter who move to a polygamous compound. The daughter, a "free thinker," naturally falls in love with the son of sect's charismatic prophet, Ervil. Get it? "Ervil" was the name of the late, violent polygamist leader Evril Lebaron.

Needless to say, this movie will be an exercise in subtly.

The plot seems pretty convoluted, but it's touted in the press release as a story of star-crossed lovers. The son gets banished at some point, there are some lost boys, and eventually everything seems to work out. Also, apparently the characters realize Ervil "is not as sacred as they originally believed." Huzzah!

The press release doesn't say which polygamous group these characters are supposed to be involved with, though based on the terminology — "lost boys," "compound," etc. — it seems to be the FLDS. On the other hand, there's no indication that these filmmakers are even aware that there are multiple polygamous groups with an array of beliefs and practices.

Susan Ray Schmidt in 2009 wrote a memoir called "Favorite Wife: Escape From Polygamy." But there's no indication the movie draws specifically from that book.

The cast includes a whole bunch of D-list actors but has two things going for it. First, Ervil is played by the guy who played Ethan from "Lost." And second, the prophet's son is played by a kid who has sort of a River Phoenix/early Leonardo Decaprio thing going on. So, eye candy.

I'm not going to say if I'll be tuning in (OK, I won't be), but this movie is interesting because it represents the increased media attention given to polygamy. Apparently the topic is mainstream enough to offer a kind of shorthand narrative structure for filmmakers. On the other hand, the rise of polygamy as a mainstream topic seems to have stripped it of nuance in some minds.

The movie airs several times, beginning Aug. 24. I couldn't find a trailer online, for which I am ultimately grateful.

What's your favorite and least favorite polygamy drama?

— Jim Dalrymple