I was at the 2019 Mormon History Association Conference earlier this month, and Friday night the program included a screening of the 2018 film Jane & Emma.
The movie is powerful, and I recommend it. But as is often the case, the film sometimes chooses art over accuracy.
Jane Elizabeth Manning was a real person. She and her family joined the Church in Connecticut. When they weren’t allowed on the boat at Buffalo, they were forced to walk the rest of the way to Nauvoo. Jane did have a young son, Sylvester, as a result of being raped by a white minister in Connecticut. Emma did ask Jane to consider becoming adopted to Emma and Joseph in the temple. After Joseph’s death, Jane married Isaac James.
These elements are all reflected in the film.
A thing film-makers like to do is create a “one day” arc, and so the film-makers created a fictional day in which Jane returns to Nauvoo and interacts with Emma Smith the day Joseph’s body is brought to Nauvoo. Unfortunately, many aspects of this day exist only as an medium to portray the film-makers’ artistic interpretation of two lives that were inter-twined in reality.
If anyone were to attempt a variant of this story again on either the stage or film, I could wish for a few tweaks:
- Include the way the children loved Jane’s cookies. Sarah Holmes in particular mentions the cookies, as well as her memory of stealing the cookies and being chided at the 50 year reunion by the elderly Jane.
- Clarify that Jane took over the washing chores Emily Partridge had performed before being sent away from the mansion house weeks before Jane’s arrival. The movie implies other young women got to sit around as pampered guests, which was not the case.
- Highlight how the Lawrence sisters welcomed Jane and her entire family to share their room at the Mansion House.
- Indicate why Jane chose to travel west with Brigham Young, despite the close bond she had with Emma.
I also like to reflect on the reason Jane couldn’t be sealed as daughter to Joseph and Emma in 1894 – it was because the practice of sealing people to non-family (e.g., Church leaders) had been ended just that year due to President Woodruff’s insistence of focusing on linking family members together. Thus the accommodation of sealing Jane as a servant to the Smiths, though utterly abhorrent to modern sensibilities, was not intended as a slight.
Despite my wishes that it could have been different, Jane and Emma is well worth watching!