Amazing Graceis the story of William Wilberforce’s stuggle to abolish the slave trade in the late 18th, early 19th century. He was a member of the English House of Commons, Parliament, and a devoted Christian, discipled by slavetrader turned preacher John Newton, who penned probably one of the most well known songs in history, Amazing Grace. Wilberforce is played by Ioan Gruffudd who is probably most recognizable to mainstream audiences as Reed Richards, the stretchy guy, in the Fantastic Fourmovies. He also played the title role in the Horatio Hornblower series of movies that ran on A&E, which are excellent. John Newton is played by the venerable Albert Finney. I’ve always really liked Finney, ever since I saw him play Daddy Warbucks in Annie when I was a kid. I think it’s his voice and they way he can play powerful figures who also have a severe vulnerability, like in Annie, Miller’s Crossing, and even as Winston Churchill in A Gathering Storm, an HBO movie which is also excellent. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Brits you’ll probably recognize but won’t remember from where. The acting overall is very good.
The story is a powerful one and covers a period of twenty years. Wilberforce was up against incredible opposition from Parliament, many of whose members had a vested business interest in keeping the slave trade alive and flourishing. In one of the DVD special features Gruffud describes the fight as akin to trying ban oil in today’s world. Pretty daunting. The filmmakers do a good job of giving insights into the political intricacies of the situation without boring the audience with a lot of highfalutin Parliamentarian mumbo jumbo. There are moments of high drama without being overly melodramatic, especially Newton’s exhortation to Wilberforce to “blow their slave ships out of the water.”
What comes across most strongly, and which I believe is the point of the movie, is Wilberforce’s passion for his cause. In one scene in particular, he’s having a conversation with his wife-to-someday-be shortly after they’ve met, and he’s doing his best to avoid the topic of slavery. His health has been deteriorating and it would be better to avoid the stress. But eventually he just can’t keep it in any longer and let’s loose with an impassioned rale against the peculiar institutions evils. This is all done very convincingly by Gruffud.
Indeed, Wilberforce’s battle did take its toll. He spent close to thirty years fighting against the great moral wrong that slavery is and did become very ill with colitis. The only relief was an opiate, which he used sparingly to keep his mind sharp, at the cost of severe pain. He finally succeeded in achieving his goal, a mere three days before he died.
I highly recommend this movie as both entertainment and as a testimony to what faith can accomplish.