Monday, September 10, 2007

Amazing Grace Review Sums It Up Perfectly

Amazing Grace Review

The names William Pitt and William Wilberforce probably don’t mean much to anybody who doesn’t have an interest in 19th century English politics, the Napoleonic wars, and the abolition of the British slave trade, so you can’t blame the makers of Amazing Grace for naming it after a hymn that might be familiar to 21st century audiences. And although the hymn, written by the slave-ship-captain-turned-Anglican-priest, John Newton, is sung twice, during the film, and treated to a magnificent military drum and bagpipe rendition in the closing credits, it’s not what the film is about.

Amazing Grace follows the struggle of English politician and Abolitionist, William Wilberforce, as he struggled for 20 years to end the British slave trade from Africa. Although described in the history books as a slight and sickly man, he gets the superhero makeover in this edition, played with sincere earnestness by Ioan Gruffudd, better known for his turn as the super-flexi Mr Incredible of the Fantastic Four franchise.

Wilberforce’s struggle is brought to life by a cast representing the cream of male English acting talent (women is this film are generally decorative, albeit supportive), which includes Albert Finney as John Newton, Rufus Sewell as the activist Thomas Clarkson, and Michael Gambon as Charles Fox. Directed by Michael Apted, (who bought us Enigma, the film that managed to make geeky code breaking mathematicians cool) if the film has a fault, it’s the confusion created by telling much of the story in flashback. But this was a minor irritation. The film was spectacular in a way that only the English can do historical epics. It looked and felt real, and managed to make what could have been a very dry topic, engaging and entertaining.

I enjoyed this film immensely. Not knowing much about this period of history, other than the general acceptance of the fact that somebody, somewhere, must have put an end to importing slaves from Africa, I was quite on the edge of my seat as Wilberforce tried again and again to get his bill passed through parliament. One could even argue that despite casting a man best known as a superhero who once played Lancelot, in a film about a man historically reputed to be weak and sickly, they weren’t that far off the mark. Wilberforce, in his own way, was a superhero of his time. And if that it was Apted’s intention to have his audience believe that, then he achieved his aim, very will indeed.

This review summed up many of my own impressions of the film perfectly, so I decided to post it here. Amazing Grace was one of the best films I saw last year, a wonderful and inspiring account of the struggle to end slavery in Britain, with charming side plots about Wilberforce meeting and marrying Barbara Spooner.

Fortunately, the film is FINALLY coming to DVD on November 13.

I also have it on good authority that the First Lady, Laura Bush, thoroughly enjoyed the film, and the President recommended it to the Queen's attention.

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