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This is the story of a minister who's feeling unhappy in his marriage who then has an affair with a church employee, who is also married, and who also has affairs, and whose husband is unwilling to divorce her. One day the minister's wife is found dead, in what appears to be an auto accident, but the highway patrolman who investigated the accident doesn't think that it's an accident but doesn't have enough evidence to justify an investigation. Later, when the woman's husband is killed an investigation begins. Written by
One of the best TV movies ever made, this riveting film tells the true-life story of the murder of a preacher's wife in rural Kansas in the early 1980s.
In one long flashback that covers the year before the wife's death in a presumed accidental traffic mishap, the script meticulously evolves the sordid relations leading up to the tragedy and the suspicion of one highway patrolman that this was no accident. In time, an ongoing tangle of lurid involvement between the preacher and his attractive church secretary leads others to the same conclusion.
As the truth of a conspiracy starts to emerge and with law enforcement closing in, the confidently smug pastor, Tom Bird (Terry Kinney) reassures his panicky co-conspirator, Lorna (JoBeth Williams) that everything will be okay. "Endureth all things, Lorna ... didn't God test Abraham in the same way?" Of course, his naïve parishioners stand by their man, no matter what.
On-location filming in Kansas adds to the realism, as does court transcripts of some dialogue. Cinematography, production design, casting, and acting are all high quality. Editing is especially impressive. Yes, it's a long film, but the complex story involves conspiracy, murder, hit men, adultery, and possible incompetence in public office.
The subject matter is unusual in that we don't normally think of a preacher as a murderer. That only happens in fictional stories. Yet the unbelievable is precisely what makes this film so mesmerizing. The events really happened. For that reason alone "Murder Ordained" is worth watching.
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