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In 1797, William Wilberforce, the great crusader for the British abolition of slavery, is taking a vacation for his health even while he is sicker at heart for his frustrated cause. However, meeting the charming Barbara Spooner, Wilberforce finds a soulmate to share the story of his struggle. With few allies such as his mentor, John Newton, a slave ship captain turned repentant priest who penned the great hymn, "Amazing Grace," Prime William Pitt, and Olaudah Equiano, the erudite former slave turned author, Wilberforce fruitlessly fights both public indifference and moneyed opposition determined to keep their exploitation safe. Nevertheless, Wilberforce finds the inspiration in newfound love to rejuvenate the fight with new ideas that would lead to a great victory for social justice. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
William Wilberforce's family line lives on today, and most recently, their name was in the news in the United Kingdom after Susan Wilberforce (the Baroness de Stempel), a direct descendant of William, stood trial for the murder of her first husband in 1989. She was eventually found not guilty, and the murder remains unsolved. See more »
The tune to which the song, Amazing Grace was sung was not used until some fifty years later. See more »
[Fox walks in unexpectedly]
Lord Charles Fox:
Well, almost. I spent eighteen months being torn apart in the House by you Mr. Wilberforce. I thought I'd find out what it feels like on your side. Any of you saints drink?
Well, this one bloody does!
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Most people probably have vaguely heard of William Wilberforce without knowing too much about his life. The power of his story, and the power of the central issue (the abolition of slavery), carries this movie that veers from artful to clumsy.
The movie can be confusing, as it moves back and forth between phases of Wilberforce's life. Often I found myself wondering for a few moments, "When is this?" Also, much of the political intrigue has to be inferred, since the backgrounds of the various players - particularly Wilberforce's adversaries - are not adequately explained.
However, the performances are quite good, some bordering on excellence. Some might argue that the villains are too simplistically presented, but on an issue like slavery, it is expected that the opposition would be completely unsympathetic (just as Nazis are rarely presented with any hint of sympathy).
I am sure the writers took some liberties with history. By the way, the tune we now associate with the hymn "Amazing Grace" did not become the melody for John Newton's famous lyrics until after Wilberforce's death.
I just watched this movie at a private screening for attendees of the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC (clergy are a natural audience for this movie). The reception was favorable, but this was an audience for which the moralizing of the story would naturally resonate. I'm not sure it will attract a very broad audience - this is a movie that may well find its niche on DVD being shown in high school history classes and at church gatherings.
It is a nice, historical, period piece. It is (largely due to subject matter) reminiscent of "Amistad", with similar pacing.
Should you see it? It depends on whether you like this TYPE of movie. If this genre (historical drama) interests you, this is quite well-done. It might even inspire you to read more about Wilberforce. Go see it. If you are in search of movies that teach lessons about good values and perseverance in fighting for what's right, go see it.
But if you have no idea when the French Revolution occurred relative to our War of Independence, and if it doesn't come naturally to you to remember that the newborn U.S. was allied with France against Britain during that period - and if you don't care - this movie might not be your idea of a fun time.
If I were the producers, I would add one of those "scrolling text" historical introductions to the film before final release, though it is probably too late.
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