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‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ Details Murders in Mormon Community

Under the Banner of Heaven on Hulu
(Image credit: FX)

Under the Banner of Heaven, an FX limited series, debuts on Hulu April 28. Inspired by a book by Jon Krakauer, the series follows the events that led to the 1984 murder of Brenda Wright Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and her baby daughter in Utah. 

Andrew Garfield plays a detective investigating the deaths. “He uncovers buried truths about the origins of the LDS [Latter-Day Saints] religion and the violent consequences of unyielding faith,” said FX. 

Garfield was drawn to the series after reading Krakauer’s book. “I read it so hungrily, and I found it so deeply fascinating–the themes, the story itself, how thrilling the story was, but also how horrifying it was,” he said at a press event. “And I, of course...thought, well, who is going to make this into a film or a television show, because it has to be made.”  

There are seven episodes. Also in the cast are Sam Worthington, Denise Gough, Wyatt Russell and Billy Howle. 

Dustin Lance Black created Under the Banner of Heaven. He’s showrunner and executive producer. Also executive producing are Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Anna Culp for Imagine Television; Jason Bateman and Michael Costigan of Aggregate Films; David Mackenzie and Gillian Berrie. 

At the press event, Black said he grew up Mormon, and many in his family remain in the faith. 

“It’s this family, who was faced with a very tough time in Utah, who are Mormon, first turned to fundamentalist Constitutionalism and then to fundamentalist Mormonism,” he said. “And we start to see and understand the dangers of leaning into the fundamentals, into the deep histories of anything.”

Black said the producers worked hard to “make the distinctions between cultural Mormons, between modern, contemporary Mormons, and fundamentalist Mormons,” he said. “And the show, I do believe, makes those distinctions clear.”

Like Garfield, Ron Howard read the Krakauer book and started to think about bringing the project to screen. “I took the initiative to go and meet Jon Krakauer, talk about it, understand his journey, the reasons that he believed the story was relevant and that he had dedicated that time,” said Howard. 

Howard added that he’s “always intrigued by family stories, family dynamics, groups of people in general trying to accomplish something, but family stories always resonate with me.”

Reviews have been mixed. A Vanity Fair review read, “At its best, Under the Banner of Heaven is a suitable supplement to the book. On its own, though, the series is oddly glancing. It promises an interconnected thicket of finely drawn characters caught in a swirl of fanaticism, but spends too much time noodling around trying to create a heavy mood that will lend the series depth. By episode five (which is as far as I’ve gotten), Brenda has almost disappeared; she’s become more of an idea than an actual person. Which is pretty much exactly what a show about her murder shouldn’t do. Once again, it seems, the awful dynamism of the wicked proves more enticing than the plight of the good, caught underfoot.”

Under the Banner of Heaven is produced by FX Productions. ■

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.