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)
What follows is the text of a letter I composed for my parish bulletin (I am a priest and pastor of a University Parish in Tucson) after having seen Amazing Grace. I often recommend movies to my parishioners, but seldom write a full-fledged review. This weekend I made an exception for an exceptional movie.
It is a movie-lovers' favorite weekend: Oscar weekend. So I beg your indulgence as I offer not just a movie recommendation, but an actual review of the remarkable movie I saw on Friday. I had been hearing about it for several weeks and looking forward to its opening in Tucson. "Amazing Grace" tells the story of William Wilberforce, a young American Revolution era British Parliamentarian who waged a three-decade legislative battle to end Great Britain's involvement in the African slave trade (Slavery was outlawed in England six decades before our civil war.) Among those who had influenced this remarkable Englishman was John Newton, the slave ship captain turned evangelical preacher, who penned the lyrics of arguably the best known sacred song in the world, which also lends its title to the movie. Newton had known Wilberforce as a child and, in the film, serves as his conscience when the task is unclear or proves daunting..
This is no schmaltzy feel-good biopic. Everything about it is compelling. It is beautifully written and directed. The cinematography and film-editing are superb. The costume and sets are exquisite. And the acting is top-notch. Ioan Gruffudd, the young Welchman best known for his excellent portrayal of C.S. Forester's seafaring hero, Horatio Hornblower, in eight made-for-A&E movies (1998-2003), brings great depth and passion to his portrayal of this complex hero of social justice. Gruffudd's star is on the rise. Awardwinning actor, Albert Finney, graces this picture as an aged and eccentric Newton. The cast is rounded out by a gaggle of veteran British character actors who lend profundity to this compelling story. In addition to the cinematic elements that make this one of the few movies I have seen that I consider to be worth the $9 it costs to see a movie these days, it is first-rate storytelling! And Wilberforce is a hero whose story must be told. He grappled with one of my favorite issues: the place of faith in public life. As a young man, the rising political star began to rediscover an intense faith that had lain dormant for a time. His fire of conviction that something must be done about the slave trade was fueled by this reemerging faith. As he struggled with whether he should use his oratorical talents a politician or a preacher, he is convinced that he can use his popularity as an MP to do God's work by actively advocating for the voiceless slaves. The movie presents the story of a man who finds a perfect balance between his faith and his public lifeeach shaping the other in the face of a clear vocation. That his secular realm is that of politics and the time is one of great fear and institutionalized injustice gives this period movie much relevance in today's world. I hope every person of faith watches this movie. I especially think that it is pertinent for our student parishioners who may be struggling with the same issues as Wilburforce. (While I fear it would bore younger children, it would be good for older children and teens.) It opened on Friday at the El Con Cinema. I will be organizing a parish outing to see "Amazing Grace" in a couple of weeks. Whether you go then or another time, I recommend this movie as a great Lenten exercise. I loved it and consider it one of the most socially relevant films I've ever seen. "Amazing Grace" has long been one of my favorite sacred songs, but I will never hear it the same again.
Peace, Fr. Bart
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