Meet the Mormons, TV review: Very few revelations on mission to uncover Mormonism


If you thought that Mormons were mostly confined to Salt Lake City and the Osmond family compound, you were wrong. As shown in Meet the Mormons (Channel 4), director Lynn Alleway's all-too-fleeting glimpse into missionary life, the Church of the Latter Day Saints is bustling with activity in the UK too.

The big boast of this hour-long, one-off documentary was Alleway's unprecedented access. Never before has the church's Utah HQ given a film-maker permission to document the lives of its UK members. But don't get too excited. It turns out that the Mormon definition of "access" and "no access at all" are, in effect, remarkably similar.

Alleway was allowed to shadow 20-year-old Josh as he set out on his two years of mandatory missionary work in Leeds, but she also had a shadow of her own; a representative of the Church who sat in on all of their interviews. There was footage of a Mormon temple's grand interiors, featuring chandeliers and life-sized model cows – but since no non-Mormon is allowed to enter, let alone film there, this was all pre-approved by the Church leadership. In agreeing to be filmed, their intention may well have been to dispel myths about Mormonism, but evidently old habits of secrecy die hard.

Josh's refusal to discuss their special chastity-promoting underwear, for instance, only made the long john-like garment seem undeservedly mysterious, while doctrines like Jesus's trip to America, baptisms for the dead, and the bar on female clergy were never actually broached. Instead, there were lots of shots of a mostly blank-faced Elder Field, as Josh was known in the church. These reminders of his inscrutability only made our frustration more acute. Alleway seemed convinced that if she could only get her subject alone, he would have revealed some hidden anguish behind this mask of calm. But was it a mask? I suspect that she hadn't factored in the stunting effect that weekends spent dancing to The Spice Girls at booze-free Mormon discos might have on character growth.

Better value was Morgan, a plump, blustering young man in a blazer and T-shirt combo, who managed to contribute a few thoughts on pre-marital sex before being firmly led away by Des the PR man. "I went on a date with this girl and we went to go watch a movie and – let me tell you – that was as fun as any form of sexual relationship could be," he announced with confidence.

"You haven't had sex, presumably?" ventured Alleway.

"No, I haven't. But the thing is, I know the chemical equation of it, so I can guess." Final score: Mormons 1 Documentaries 0.

Missionaries like Elder Field have an allowance of only £26 a week for food and haircuts, but they're still better off than Sammy-Jo, in another documentary from yesterday evening, Channel 4's Beauty Queen or Bust. As a hopeful Miss Black Country contestant, her £56 dole money has to stretch to rent, food, travel and a shedload of false eyelashes. So even though 44 years have passed since feminists protested Miss World 1970, it seems that women in dire economic straits are still reduced to trading off their looks in the hope of advancement. And woe betide the ugly ones.

Some things have changed, however; the outmoded swimsuit parade has been replaced by an "eco-wear" round, in which pageant contestants have to create an outfit from recycled materials. Twenty-two-year-old Natalie used human hair for her dress: "'Cause I do hairdressing and hair extensions for a living, I thought why not incorporate it into the eco round?" Why not, indeed.

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Arts and Entertainment
Bono throws water at the crowd while the Edge watches as they perform in the band's first concert of their new world tour in Vancouver

MusicThey're running their own restaurants

The main entrance to the BBC headquarters in London
TV & Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
    I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

    I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

    Latest on the Labour leadership contest
    Froome seals second Tour de France victory

    Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

    Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
    Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

    The uses of sarcasm

    'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
    A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

    No vanity, but lots of flair

    A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
    Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

    In praise of foraging

    How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food