“Love and Death” – Tradition, Religion and Crime [Review]

Love and Death


Title: “Love and Death”

Release Date: 2023

Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Jesse Plemons, Patrick Fugit, Lily Rabe, Tom Plephrey


The story of Candance Montgomery, who killed her lover’s wife by dealing her 41 blows with an axe and was later acquitted by an American court, certainly has movie potential. Not surprisingly, it was reached for a third time – after the 1990 production and the 2022 series starring Jessica Biel, HBO also released its version under the title “Love and Death.” This is not only a story of romance, crime and a court trial, but also a picture of a small, traditional community, where, as it turns out, devotion to tradition and religion does not protect against wickedness, and often creates convenient appearances for foul deeds.

“Love and Death” – HBO series on facts

This story really happened. On June 13, 1980, in a small town in Texas, the body of Betty Gore, a young wife and mother of two children, was found in one of the houses. In the absence of her husband, in broad daylight, she had been dealt 41 blows with an axe. The perpetrator turned out to be a family acquaintance and also Betty’s spouse’s lover, Candance Montgomery. After a long trial, however, the woman was not found guilty of the premeditated crime, as the jury believed her version of events. Candance claimed that she acted in self-defense, as it was Betty who, in a frenzy of jealousy over her husband, lunged at her rival with an axe. This highly mysterious case continues to stir emotions in the United States to this day, and residents of the town where the aforementioned events took place are divided in their opinions about the tragedy.

In 1990, the story was filmed by Stephen Gyllenhaal under the title “In the Name of Love,” and the role of Candance was played by Barbara Hershey. In 2022, in turn, there was a miniseries based on the events – “Candy – Death in Texas”, directed by Robin Veith and Nick Antoski. The character of the killer was played by Jessica Biel. The script for the HBO production was written by David E. Kelley, winner of two Emmy awards, known among other things for his work on “Big Little Lies,” while Leslie Linka Glatter and Clark Johnson were behind the camera. The role of Candance went to Elizabeth Olsen, who had the opportunity to show the full extent of her talent.

Love and Death series review


The series “Love and Death” – the story of a certain romance

Watching the series “Love and Death”, I had the impression that the production was a bit uneven, and the process-crime part fared much better than the moral story. The romance plot itself seemed to me a bit long-winded, and the motivations of the characters to some extent incomprehensible. After all, instead of an outburst of passion bored with the daily routine of “Mrs. Bovary,” we have here a precisely planned almost to the minute fling. Candy and Allan’s joint discussion of the rules of their relationship more resembles the conclusion of a boring business contract than it brings to mind passionate sex. Little is also shown of the lovers’ marital problems, which would have motivated their conduct more.

The characters themselves also remain uncharacteristic – Jesse Plemons, played by Allan Gore, at first glance appears to be a faithful spouse with principles, meanwhile he unscrupulously accepts the proposal of an attractive acquaintance and gets embroiled in a long affair, disregarding the fact that his wife is expecting a child at the time. The man behaves extremely passively – he begins and ends the relationship with Candy with equal indifference.

Even more mysterious is Elizabeth Olsen as Candance. Contrary to appearances, she is the one who becomes more involved in the affair and survives the separation from her lover, but she does not stop caring about appearances even for a moment. Her character repeatedly arouses irritation and even anger. A mother of two, a Sunday school teacher who regularly attends church and says a prayer before every meal, she sees nothing improper in sleeping with her pregnant friend’s husband. She is elegant to the end, well-groomed and not neglecting her duties in a way that inspires horror. I have to admit that I’m not sure whether Candy annoyed me because Olsen’s performance is so poor, or on the contrary, so brilliant that at times I couldn’t stand her.

Love and Death HBO

Also worth mentioning is Lily Rabe in the role of Betty Gore, who comes off really well. She is able to convey her character’s mental problems in an extremely subtle way. Her gaze, nervous gestures, the way she moves – all these elements create some kind of disturbing impression and build a specific atmosphere of the scenes with her participation.

“Love and Death” – a courtroom series and a reflection on human nature

What I liked most about the series, however, was the court battle, especially since Tom Plephrey enters the action as Don Crowder, Candance’s lawyer. His creation enlivens the whole thing tremendously, bringing energy and humor to the production. Of course, also interesting is the defense strategy chosen by the lawyer, which ultimately succeeds. The very attitude of Don, who takes a seemingly preemptively lost case and devotes himself to it completely, is a classic of American courtroom drama.

On the other hand, what I found most interesting in the series “Love and Death” was the environment in which the terrible crime is born. For it is a community of believers in the Methodist Church, practicing and raising their children in the spirit of religious values. It’s a small traditional community in conservative Texas, where family and marriage seem to be an unquestioned priority, and all community activities are designed to support it. So there are marriage retreats, a Bible school or inclusive gatherings of believers who play sports or organize picnics. As it turns out, however, religion does not always fulfill the role of guardian of morality. A person can slip through any ethical rules anyway, and perhaps it is the excessive restraint and control that provokes the temptation to break commonly accepted norms? With this not easy question the series “Love and Death” leaves the viewer shaken.