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Although a lot of the cast of this film were amateurs and the budget was skimpy (understandable as it was financed largely by the director's father) I was incredibly moved by Handcart. This is the true story of the Mormon version of the Donner Party.
For the rest of us gentiles Brigham Young apparently hit on the idea of saving on the cost and feeding of livestock in bringing converts out to the Utah Territory by using handcarts and having the Saints walk the plains to their Zion. That was quite an expense for traditional wagon trains. For the most part it worked, but two parties left late in the year of 1856 and were pretty decimated by the time survivors reached Salt Lake City.
The film is told in flashback by one of the survivors fifty years later in 1906 during a Sunday school presentation. Apparently Mormon history as well as religion is taught there. The film focuses on the personal story of Jaelan Petrie and Stephanie Albach who meet in Iowa City which was a jumping off point for Mormon pilgrims. Petrie is clerking in his uncle's general store like a young Abe Lincoln and Albach is fresh from the United Kingdom where missionaries had been making converts. She's there with her sister, both having lost their parents on the ship's voyage from the old country. The two fall in love and Petrie decides to convert, a move not inclined to make friends in a town that barely tolerates Mormons.
For love people have done a lot crazier things than change their religious faith, that bit of criticism from other reviewers I don't understand.
Perhaps because this was a cast of unknowns made the telling of this story far more believable than if you were seeing people like Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston who were an item back in those days starring in this production. I thought I was truly along on the voyage of these Handcart travelers. Their stories could get an emotional reaction out of a statue. It got one out of me.
Handcart is a story worth telling and worth seeing beyond the world of the LDS church.
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