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Truly Moving Picture
tollini14 October 2006
I saw this film on October 10th, 2006 in Indianapolis. I am one of the judges for the Heartland Film Festival's Truly Moving Picture Award. A Truly Moving Picture "…explores the human journey by artistically expressing hope and respect for the positive values of life." Heartland gave that award to this film.

This is an inspiring story based on a legendary historical British Member of Parliament, William Wilberforce. During the late 18th century and early 19th century, a very young Wilberforce is elected to Parliament and over the course of several decades leads the fight to ban slavery.

Today this seems like an easy, obvious and intuitive decision. But this was not so 200 years ago. The film clearly explains the entrenched economic motives and the political motives for slavery. Wilberforce starts out as almost a force of one and slowly builds abolitionist momentum by brilliant oratory, political maneuvers, and appealing to his fellow man's better nature.

Ioan Gruffudd is totally believable in explaining to the audience the complexity and heroism of Wilberforce. Wilberforce over the course of his life is sickly and strong, religious and worldly, naive and romantic, and idealistic and practical.

During the course of this mostly political story, we get to see the immense cruelty shown to the captured Africans turned into slaves. We are shown the slave sailing ships where the captured are treated inhumanely and die of starvation, neglect, disease, and filth. Man's inhumanity to man was never worse.

Wilberforce is a great man of history even though mostly forgotten today. He respected his fellow man regardless of their station in life. He was always willing to sacrifice his life and health to help others. And his compassion and spirit was always masked by his humility. He is a hero for all ages.

This is a period piece and you are lost in it because of the attention to detail. The sets, art direction, and costumes allow you to totally suspend disbelief and be moved by the story.

FYI – There is a Truly Moving Pictures web site where there is a listing of past Truly Moving Picture Award winners that are now either at the theater or available on video.
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Great story, well told
Nick Van der Graaf18 September 2006
This is a lovely, moving and intelligent film. I did not detect any notably weak performances among a remarkable cast. The older actors though, Michael Gambon and Albert Finney, were shameless scene stealers, but one can hardly fault them for their excellence. There were many things to like about this film. It was gorgeous to look at, brilliantly capturing the look and sound of a sumptuous age. The pacing and editing were fine, though the device using flashbacks for most of the film occasionally led to a moments confusion about when a scene was supposed to be taking place. And the story itself is quite inspirational. A note for my Canadian readers and the Canadians who attended the TIFF screenings. The film mostly covered the struggle to outlaw slavery in Britain itself, though they did touch on Wilberforce's efforts to have it outlawed throughout the British Empire. This continued in the years after the conclusion of the film, and a Bill to do just that was passed in 1833, a month after Wilberforce died. So the film we watched was very much about our own history, and the story of the abolition of slavery in Britain directly affected the eventual abolition of slavery in Canada.
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Moving period drama
colin-5095 February 2007
I was well impressed with Amazing Grace; the period was superbly captured, and the interplay of the main action (the fight of William Wilberforce to abolish British slavery) with the other great events of his time (the American and French revolutions) was well presented. The film stirs the emotions but informs the mind. Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce is believable and depicts the tenacious Yorkshire MP with both his bodily weakness and great spirit well. Albert Finney as John Newton renders a moving portrayal of the ex-slave trader turned evangelical minister who influences Wilberforce's decision to remain in politics rather than entering the ministry of the church. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a strong representation of William Pitt, and the overall impression of the film is one whose history has been well researched. Well worth a viewing.
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Saw this at Toronto Film Festival!
pharaohs_kitty16 September 2006
Ioan Gruffudd in Amazing Grace, Michael Apted's new masterpiece - what can I say? The man delivered his usual brilliant performance. What made this one better than all the rest? Why do I think Oscar when I think of his part? Every moment he was on screen drew you deeper and deeper into identifying with William Wilberforce until at the end, when he finally achieves his life's work, you want to clap right along with the people applauding him on screen! When he suffers, you suffer right along with him. From the wry twist of his lips to the pain and devastation in his eyes to the fervent body language as he makes point after impassioned point, you are right there living Wilberforce's life.

The most charming parts were fodder provided by the fabulous screen writing and brought to electric life by Ioan Gruffudd as impassioned Wilberforce, Benedict Cumberpatch as driven and farseeing William Pitt, P.M., Romola Garai as Wilberforce's zesty and feisty wife Barbara and the surprisingly fantastic delivery by Jeremy Swift as Ioan's long-suffering wise butler. Jeremy has a way of delivering a comic line with a punch to your chest that bursts into laughter! Benedict and Ioan have clear chemistry as friends with a vision for the future. You can't help but believe these two would choose to be brothers if they could. But the best and most connected relationship was between Ioan as Wilberforce and Romola as his wife. You could feel the way they were already together even while their characters were still protesting on screen.

Michael Apted riveted the audience, bringing to life politics in a way that made you wish you could run out and find a cause of your own to champion. Again, I say Oscar. I have rarely attended a movie where the audience clapped to the point of hurting their fingers with the thunder they were creating for so bloody long! Entirely throughout the actor credits the audience applauded, only varying the volume for those performances they particularly appreciated. Ioan Gruffudd, Benedict Cumberpatch, Romola Garai, Jeremy Swift, Michael Gambon, and Albert Finney.

All in all, a tour de force movie that should impact everyone with the IMPORTANCE of trying to change that which is NOT RIGHT.

Congratulations to everyone who worked on Amazing Grace. Truly, wonder was on screen today.
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The redemption story of something terrible into something beautiful
Keith Wojciech24 January 2007
I had the pleasure this past week of seeing a pre-screening outside of Washington, D.C. of the movie Amazing Grace, starring Reed Richards...err...Ioan Gruffudd as William Wilberforce – the famous British Christian politician that helped end the slave trade in Great Britain in the early 18th Century. The movie progresses through Wilberforce's life from about the time he begins his crusade against the slave trade in Parliament in his early 20's to the time it is eventually abolished. Everything in between is composed of all the hardships, victories, and relationships he goes through in the meantime. At some points the story can be a bit yawn inducing, but the film consistently seems to add just the right amount of humor or political intrigue to keep it afloat (more on the pacing below). There is a love interest Barbara, played by the quite attractive and dynamic Romola Garai, who keeps Mr. Fantastic...err...Wilberforce on track and encouraged. You get the feeling he would've never made it through the hard times without her (which is probably the case for most successful men as they say). The film does delve into evils of the slave trade, but it doesn't focus specifically on it, much like Amistad did focus on it. It seems to keep the main goal in mind, abolishing that heinous evil. This gives the film a "glass half full" feeling instead of a "glass half empty" one. You find yourself cheering for the good guys instead of seeking the heads of the bad ones.

You may be thinking they should've just called this film "Amistad: The Prequel", but that would do it a great disservice. Where Amistad succeeded in many ways such as exposing the horror of the slave trade in much more visual and visceral detail and containing great acting by Djimon Hounsou and Anthony Hopkins, I feel you ultimately left the theater not really feeling much better about anything. In fact, I'd say you may have left if feeling worse, maybe even shameful and/or guilty. Amazing Grace doesn't feel like that. In fact, it's not even really a "feel good" movie; it transcends that status. It's really a "do good" movie. You almost feel personal empowerment from the story, like you want to go out and change some social injustice yourself! Sure, we don't all have the political clout of a William Wilberforce, but we do have a voice. And I think that's why Amazing Grace stands above previous "social injustice" films like it. It feels organic instead of static. It feels like it could apply to today instead of some time long forgotten. It also appeals to everyone; black, white, or whoever. One African-American in the audience mentioned how he was impressed and encouraged at how passionate these white men were for the plight of the slaves. You also realize that slavery wasn't just an American problem, it was a world problem; which further emphasized the fact that the social injustice we see today isn't just a "fill_in_the_blank" problem, it's a world problem.

I'm not knowledgeable enough to comment very much on the technical aspects of this film, but don't let the religious overtones fool you into thinking this is another technical mess like so many in the past. It is on par with any period film of its kind from Hollywood in almost every way; acting, set design, costume design, story, etc.

One thing I found a drawback to it was its pacing though. It starts off fairly tepid, and though it builds up, it seems to go through a cycle of building up and then falling back down again. This could ultimately be a good thing though, because if you can keep your focus throughout the film, you'll be in for a very powerful ending that evokes positive emotions you didn't think you had, and I think the cyclic nature of the film's progress enhances the fulfillment the ending provides. I also found the time period jumping around within the film to be a bit confusing at some points; like some scenes I didn't know if they were in the past or present.

The representative at the screening said the movie would be playing on about 850 screens nationwide on its opening weekend (Feb. 23). Though this is small compared to most major movies, it is a pretty good amount for a smaller movie like this. I recommend going to see it if you're interested in a movie with depth, passion, character, goodness, virtue, and victory. Does it entertain? Sure. But it seems to do a little more also. You can't say that about too many movies these days. You won't leave wishing you had that $8.50 back.

In case you're wondering about the title, John Newton, the composer of the famous hymn 'Amazing Grace', (played powerfully by Albert Finney), was a contemporary and friend of William Wilberforce. John Newton was also a reformed ex-slave trader.
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Amazing Movie
Patrick Kallestad14 February 2007
This is a truly inspiring film that has much more than what appears on the surface. William Wilberforce was a man that understood persistance for change. He was a real World Changer that never knew the quit.

The film was beautifully done and the script was fantastic!! I love many of the phrase pulled from actual accounts of Wilberforce and Pitt's life.

Albert Finney does an amazing job as John Newton. He truly stole the show on this film.

Hollywood needs to pay attention and make more positive and moving films like this one!!!! Great Job.
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An exceptional film about an exceptional man
Bart_OP26 February 2007
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.

Dear Friends,

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. Award–winning 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 life—each 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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a must see film
annplatz3 February 2007
I saw Amazing Grace on Thursday at a private showing. The film has everything that I love about theater...passion, conflict, struggle, faith, redemption and grace. The story is true... making this film one of reality and substance. The struggle to rid the world of slavery has been a black mark against humanity. The British are to be applauded as the leaders in this journey to freedom. The actors' performances were incredible. Albert Finney's portrayal of John Newton is an Oscar possibility. The scenes were period and perfection. Even the dark mood of the times were reflected in the lighting and how the director portrayed the message of bondage. Go see this film...acquaint yourself with this powerful story and this man William Wilberforce. I rate it a 10!
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Decent movie of a great story
rich-46431 January 2007
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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The Most Amazing Movie I have ever seen. It is highly recommended to all.
EmmyRoseXox30 September 2006
This movie was the most amazing movie I have ever seen. I think that it is an empowering movie to be seen by all. Just the shear magnitude of emotion that is seen on the screen by not only Ioan Gruffard, but the entire cast.

If you did not get the chance to watch it at the Toronto Film Festival, then I highly suggest that you see it when it comes out in theatre.

After attending the Toronto Film Festival and hearing the Director speak about this movie, I know that this movie is not meant to be only the normal entertaining movie, it is also meant to be a lesson, a tale to be understood and appreciated by many.
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The film was both a touching and thought-provoking call to action.
wichitagirl15 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This was a magnificent film -- touching and thought-provoking on multiple levels. There were times when Wilberforce felt like giving up the battle, but the film is truly a story of perseverance and willingness to press through the raucous voices of dissent with a clear voice of what is right. The scenes with John Newton were so well done, with "reach for the tissue" moments, empathy and joy being among the emotions experienced by the moviegoer. The facial expressions throughout the film helped the moviegoer identify with the various characters; the casting was exquisite. I don't think if you're even minimally inclined to stand up for something you believe in that you can help but be stirred by the passion in this film. I do think we must see the ugliness of wrong and the repugnance of what one man can do to another in the name of economics and personal comfort almost as a preface to involvement. The symbolism of what one individual can do was wonderfully displayed in this amazing film.
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Touching biography about William Wilberforce responsible for a bill which abolishes the slave trade
ma-cortes19 June 2012
The idealist William Wilberforce (finely played by Ioan Grufudd) along with Rhomas Clarkson (Rufus Sewell) and a group of anti-slave trade maneuver his way through Parliament, endeavoring to end the British transatlantic trade that would lead to a great victory . Wilberforce helped by his lifelong friend and future P. M . William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch) will fight to get their purports for social justice . Wilberforce encounters the inspiration in newfound love interest (Romola Garai) to rejuvenate the battle with new ideas . After many attempts to bring legislation forward over twenty years, he is eventually gets a bill being passed through Parliament in 1807, in which abolishes the slavery the British empire forever.

This is a bicentennial tribute to William Wilberforce and his parliamentary bill abolishing the slave trade . Thought-provoking and moving film dealing with interesting issues , including fidelity to historical accuracy and detailed moral battles . Ioan Gruffudd is good as obstinate , romantic parliamentary member who battles relentlessly injustices ; he does a dignified portrayal about a great man . The prestigious cast shows their awareness of the contemporary impact about the brooding themes and are allowed to step out of period detail . Special mention to Benedict Cumberbatch as his lifelong friend Prime Minister William Pitt and N' Dour realizing an enjoyable portrait of an ex-slave . All of them are quietly upstaged by Albert Finney as a repent , remorse ex-slaver . The motion picture was marvelously directed by Michael Apted , he's director, producer of several successes such as ¨The word is not enough¨, ¨Gorillas in the mist¨ , ¨Class action¨, ¨Nell¨, ¨Enigma¨ , ¨Chronicles of Narnia II : The voyage of Dawn Treader¨ among others . Rating : Above average and worthwhile seeing , the whole family will enjoy this film .It's a very likable biography and enormously appealing for students and scholars . Overall this is a really nice movie . If you are familiar with the history then you will like this splendid film .

This is a biopic well based on historical events , adding more details over the largely described in the movie are the following : William Wilberforce (24 August 1759 – 29 July 1833) was a British politician, philanthropist, and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. A native of Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire, he began his political career in 1780, eventually becoming the independent Member of Parliament for Yorkshire (1784–1812). In 1785, he underwent a conversion experience and became an evangelical Christian, resulting in major changes to his lifestyle and a lifelong concern for reform. In 1787, he came into contact with Thomas Clarkson and a group of anti-slave-trade activists, including Granville Sharp, Hannah More and Charles Middleton. They persuaded Wilberforce to take on the cause of abolition, and he soon became one of the leading English abolitionists. He headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty-six years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807. Wilberforce was convinced of the importance of religion, morality and education. He championed causes and campaigns such as the Society for Suppression of Vice, British missionary work in India, the creation of a free colony in Sierra Leone, the foundation of the Church Mission Society, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. His underlying conservatism led him to support politically and socially repressive legislation, and resulted in criticism that he was ignoring injustices at home while campaigning for the enslaved abroad.In later years, Wilberforce supported the campaign for the complete abolition of slavery, and continued his involvement after 1826, when he resigned from Parliament because of his failing health. That campaign led to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which abolished slavery in most of the British Empire; Wilberforce died just three days after hearing that the passage of the Act through Parliament was assured. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, close to his friend William Pitt.
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Inspiring but inaccurate
Sophie-324 February 2007
To see this well mounted but simplistic and worshipful bio-pic, one would think that William Wilberforce (and to a lesser extent, young Mr. Pitt) were the only members of Parliament to speak out against the war with America, then against the slave trade. Not so, folks - next time you're in Westminster Abbey, you might check out the large abolitionist monument dedicated someone whose fight against the slave trade predated that of Wilberforce and was widely recognized during his liftetime: Charles James Fox.

Yes, that same Fox so inaccurately identified in the film as a tame follower of Wilberforce, agonizing over the slavery question and finally swayed by the young man's eloquence. Truth is, Fox - whose pro-American, pro-French Revolution, anti-slavery and anti-absolute monarchy sentiments put him at odds with George III during nearly his entire political career - was a "phenomenon of the age" in the words of a contemporary, and one of Parliament's most eloquent speakers on a range of causes that certainly rivalled those of Wilberforce.

He was also only 10 years older than Pitt, something you'd never guess from the fright-wig makeup Michael Gambon wears.

You can understand why such scripting decisions are made: Wilberforce has to be young and sexy to be attractive, and his more priggish attitudes (he often urged Parliament to pass laws prohibiting all amusements on Sundays, and was appalled at what he deemed Fox's immorality: his drinking, gambling and womanizing) have to be eliminated. It's a shame, because Wilberforce was all the more interesting for being a complex human - but it's so much easier to make him terribly young, eager and dashing, and all other politicians of the day old and timid.

Other strange egregious errors: Fox was not a lord, nor would you find any lords among Wilberforce's fellows in the House; lords do not sit in the House of Commons. The character identified as the king's son, the Duke of Cumberland, would have been about 12 years old at the time of the movie's action. Pitt was prime minister for some 20 years, yet his cautious political trimming was at least partly responsible for the slave trade continuing as long as it did.

It was a pleasant enough film and rousing in parts, but I prefer my history more red-blooded and reflective of real human beings.
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An appalling film,
nigel-hunt-26 February 2008
This was a dreadful film. I should have stopped watching when the first scene made a show of presenting exactly which actor was playing Wilberforce, but I didn't. The script was of the worst kind, full of clichés, error-ridden, and designed for fake 'dramatic pauses' (presumably expecting limited education and intelligence in the audience). There were many gross errors of fact. No educated man of that age would translate a Latin phrase for an educated audience. During the House of Commons scenes there were many problems. Perhaps the biggest was the declaration by the speaker that the bill to abolish the slave trade had been passed and so was now law. The British Parliamentary system requires all bills to be passed by the House of Commons, and then by the House of Lords, and then to be signed by the head of state (the monarch) before becoming law. Educated British people know this. In the end, Amazing Grace was a classic British attempt to present a film to the US market. They always fail (at least in quality), because the main points are trivialised, facts are ignored, and there is an assumption that the audience has limited intelligence. Perhaps it works for the US audience; but it is an embarrassment to the British.
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It's not the story; it's how you tell it.
edchin20062 March 2008
Not knowing much about the period nor the characters portrayed, I would guess that the sleep inducing pace of the film stemmed from an attempt at historical accuracy. Yet, as I read the comments, I see liberty was taken to preserve the "Heroic" image of William Wilberforce.

Actually, if portrayed as he really was, it might have made him a bit more human and less "saintly". He could then be seen as a man of his times who rose above his personal weaknesses when it came to the question of Slavery.

So, whilst this be a noble story, it's a pretty dull film. If they're going to play around with the facts, they should have done it in a way to add drama and action to the film - after all, it is a "Moving Picture". Static scenes of debates and discussions just don't make for interesting film.
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"Amazing Grace" Indeed!
1stbrigade23 February 2007
"Amazing Grace" tells the remarkable story of William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament, who spend twenty years of his life on a quest to bring an end to the slave trade in Britain. The cast and crew have done a fantastic job of bringing this story to the screen. Ioan Gruffudd is fantastic as Wilberforce! He is complemented by an amazing supporting cast, including Albert Finney, who turns in a small but powerful performance as John Newton, the slave-ship captain turned preacher, and writer of "Amazing Grace." The plot and story are handled with great reverence. I was moved to tears several times during the course of the film! "Amazing Grace" is a fantastic film that will inspire all who see it! Grade: A
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Sailor-213 April 2007
I can't agree with the many commentators who found this a great movie. It isn't.

I think many viewers confuse Wilberforce the man with the movie.

I have nothing but admiration for Wilberforce, a man with a powerful moral vision and great determination, who spent 15 years persuading his fellow parliamentarians to do the right thing and abolish the slave trade.

The movie does not measure up to the man.

The movie is nothing but a collection of pretty period scenes and idiosyncratic actions. None of the characters are developed in any depth. There is not a strong story line, moving inexorably from the beginning to the end of the sage. The story, such as it is, hops confusingly back and forth in time, to no particular purpose. There are scatterings of little vignettes, which add nothing. The script is dreadful.

The acting is fine, if frequently overdone. I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Pitt the Younger.

The costuming, art direction and photography are fine, but do not redeem the film.

Too bad. Wilberforce deserves better.
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An enjoyable and justifiable mainstream simplification
Chris_Docker15 March 2007
Commemorating the abolition of slavery (roughly 200 years ago) seems a suitable occasion to make a movie, but how to go about such an awesome task? Director Michael Apted (Gorillas in the Mist) has opted for classic style, following the fortunes of inspired young parliamentarian William Wilberforce. Eschewing a more analytical or left-wing approach, he has probably made the right decision.

As credits open, an MP stops his carriage on a wet and windswept road to intervene with commoners who are severely beating a horse. Wilber's kindness is not just to animals (including a pet hare) but to the poor and needy, who he often invites for breakfast and lunch - much to the exasperation of his overworked cook! But Wilber is torn between politics and church. His mentors persuade him that he can do most good - particularly in the fight against slavery - if he enters government.

Wilber's best friend is William Pitt the Younger, soon to become Prime Minister. But many MPs - not to mention the Crown - have vested interests in the nasty but lucrative slave trade. Wilber's adviser and hero is a John Newton (Albert Finney), a clergyman who used to be a slave trader until he repented of his ways. John has also authored the eponymous song, which we are treated to at regular intervals. Wilber is soon to meet the delectable Barbara - and we kind of guess that, for all their protestations, there can only be one conclusion there. After all (we're told), "A single man will wither away in rooms that smell of feet and armpits."

So our plot is driven through surprisingly colourful halls of Westminster, with two burning questions: 'When will Wilber get slavery abolished', and 'When will Wilber get Barbara?'

Amazing Grace is a big glossy period piece in that tradition where you are carried along seamlessly by a story and don't ask questions - which usually means it's all the more important to ask them. Wilber is the all-good hero, asserting moral righteousness in a moral vacuum, and will eventually get the girl as well as triumph on behalf of civilisation. Generic films like this are the most subtle at reinforcing traditional values whether we like it or not, because we accept the message without thinking about it.

On the 'message' front, apart from 'slavery is wrong', we have Wilber inspired by God, frequently in the form of uncontroversial spider webs and other aspects of nature. This tends to make us think that religion per se is good, when in fact the Church of England has publicly apologised for its involvement in the slave trade, saying the Church was, "At the heart of it." When emancipation took place in 1833, compensation was paid not to the branded slaves but to their owners - the Bishop of Exeter and three colleagues, for instance, being paid nearly £13,000 in compensation for 665 slaves.

Marriage is also held up as one of the 'given' goodnesses, when in fact it is one of the principle mechanisms used in countries where slavery still goes on and, in this form, girls are sold off and married against their will even before their teens.

Many historical details go unchallenged, specifically how slavery was abolished, which is dealt with in a very simplistic (and not entirely accurate) manner. The idea that slavery is something solely inflicted by white men on black men, women and children is not questioned - something that is still a source of sadness to black Americans tracing their ancestors in Africa, only to find that Africans were willing accomplices. True the Africans enslaved between tribes as the result of civil strife were not treated in the inhuman way that they were by white men, but in 1872, long after abolition, the king of Asante wrote to the British monarch asking for the slave trade to be renewed.

So can a relatively sugary film about such devastation of human life be justified? 85,000 Africans a year crossed the Atlantic to work on plantations that made Europe rich. Should a more careful portrait have been painted? Oscar-nominated cinematographer Remi Adefarasin envelops us in a lush, reassuring panoramic of politics and country houses, served up in good-enough-to-touch sets and artistically-lit woodlands - not a trace of brutalised slaves anywhere. Costumes by Oscar-winning Jenny Beavan (Gosford Park) re-create the period in all its finery, rarely stepping outside the delicately quiffed locks of the upper classes. On one level, this is the world that Wilber has to convince. No television news programmes or gruesome photographs - the camera would not be invented till a few years later. But there is another reason, and one which, to my mind, justifies many of the film's apparent shortcomings.

Emancipation from slavery is a subject that needs to be a part of our international consciousness at every level. Every adult. Every schoolchild. A more graphic story would not have gained the rating that will enable both adults and children to enjoy the movie. An intellectual examination would have alienated mass audiences. A 'worthy' docudrama would not have got people out of their houses. This is one example where classical film-making is surely justified. (The official website comes with educational downloads and links to charities where you can take action against slavery today.)

Amazing Grace is a story of the triumph of the human spirit over its own follies. The techniques used by its protagonists will be inspiring to other rights groups campaigning for change. The story is a little predictable in outcome, and the moral magnificence of the main characters a bit overdone, but it utilises all the expertise of modern mainstream cinema to make its point in a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable way. Amazing it is not, but only the cynical will refuse to grant it the grace it deserves.
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There is always room for another hero
lastliberal24 February 2007
I don't read Cal Thomas often, but I generally agree with his article the other day decrying the lack of true heroes. Blaming television for creating a nation of gawkers, he has hit on a true fact - there are not enough true heroes around.

I can imagine that thousands went to the movies this weekend to see films such as The Number 23 and Reno 911!: Miami or The Astronaut Farmer. Even lists Amazing Grace under "more." It is a shame that a film about a true hero gets such treatment. Amazing Grace is a film that every parent should drag their child to see, just so they know that as Margaret Mead once said: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

In Amazing Grace, the idealist William Wilberforce, and a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens maneuvered their way through Parliament in 18th century England, endeavoring to end slavery in the empire. Their story, the story of heroes, was masterfully done by Ioan Gruffudd, who children will know from Fantastic Four and "Justice League".

This is the story of passion and perseverance, of love and caring; it is the story of a true hero. The amazing thing is that there is room for many more heroes such as Wilberforce and it doesn't take magical powers, or incredible bravery, or anything that is outside the realm of everyone of us. It just takes a desire to leave the world a better place.

It is hoped that all who see Wilberforce's heroism will dig deeper and find that he devoted his whole life to making the world a better place. Many things we take for granted today would not be here were it not for this man - this hero.
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Dreadfully preachy
sheezeouttahere10 January 2008
This movie could be shown in film classes as a lesson in telling instead of showing. The actors' dialogue was often painfully stiff, even though the cast includes of some of the best jobbing actors in England. Speaking of actors, the deficiencies in Ioan Gruffudd's performance were underscored by the experience and ability of the surrounding players. His presence in a scene immediately sucked the life out of it. Perhaps the problems with the script -- among them, pacing and tone -- account for his lackluster performance. The costumes and the cinematography were top-notch, however. I love good costume dramas, particularly those set in Georgian and Regency England, but this film felt very flat.
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Let's hear it for Wilbers
Philby-35 August 2007
This film has been described as stolid ("too many parliamentary speeches"), but I would rather say "old fashioned". It is very much a reprise of the earnest 1940's style of biopic exemplified by "A Song to Remember" (about Chopin) and "The Al Jolson Story". Michael Apted as a director tends to produce poetic documentaries (the Seven-Up series) and prosaic feature films ("Enigma", and even his Bond effort "The World is not Enough"). Here, though there is a literate script from Steven Knight ("Dirty Pretty Things"), the story doesn't come across as well as it might, partly as a result of tinkering with the timeline (1797 to 1783 to 1797 to 1806).

More crucially, we really don't know at the end how William Wilberforce managed to turn round the opinion of those who mattered on the Slavery Question, though we get glimpses of his tactics. We meet some of his supporters, like Thomas Clarkson, a clergyman of revolutionary tendencies, former slaver John Newton and ex-slave Oloudaqh, and the clever Chancery lawyer, James Stephen. They are obviously very committed, but there has to be more to it. Who collected the 390,000 signatures on the petition produced in Parliament? One gets the impression that anti-slavery was a mass movement and Wilberforce, brave and resolute as he may have been, was just the toff who kept on introducing the anti-slave trade bill in the House of Commons - a toff whose subsequent career did not show him to be a friend of the working man.

As the toff in question Ioan Gruffud is just fine, though he's so reluctant to touch his lovely sweetheart Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai) that one marvels that he has so many descendants. The lack of love scenes is probably attributable to the policy of the producers, the Anschutz film group, of keeping their films G or PG. Apparently such films make more money than MA or, horrors, R movies. Anschutz is controlled by a Colorado billionaire of conservative inclinations and evangelical beliefs.

On the basis of this film, the protagonists of slavery were not terribly smart. The thrust of Wilberforce's attack was not so much on slavery itself as the deplorable conditions under which it was conducted. If the slavers had cleaned up their act and accepted a bit of regulation they could have gone on for another 50 years. Instead they just bribed MPs, who eventually had to support abolition to get re-elected.

One pro-slaver featured in the film is William, Duke of Clarence, who later reigned briefly but not too badly as William IV (1830-37). In reality quite a handsome man who had spent 10 years in the Navy, he is portrayed here by Toby Jones as a malevolent dwarf obsessed with gambling. Anachronistically, but for dramatic purposes, he is shown as a member of the House of Commons (William did threaten to stand for the Commons once; his father George III bought him off with a Dukedom, remarking "I well know it is one more vote added to the opposition.").It is true, however that he opposed abolition, having West Indian sugar interests himself..

The role of Wilberforce's old school friend, the child prodigy Prime Minister William Pitt (who became PM at 24), played with feline charm by Benedict Cumberbatch is rather intriguing. Publicly, Pitt had to be very cautious on the slavery issue, but he and Wilbers are shown as very matey indeed in private, running around the lawn together in their underwear. The effect of casting stud-muffin Ioan Gryffud as Wilbers leads the viewer to wonder whether they might be something more than just good mates – something they may have missed back in Boulder, Colorado.

There are lots of fine performances here including Nicholas Farrell as Wilber's cousin Henry Thornton, Rufus Sewell as Thomas Clarkson, Michael Gambon as Charles James Fox, and especially Albert Finney as John Newton, the ex-slaver turned Evangelical Anglican priest and composer of hymns. (He not only wrote "Amazing Grace" but also "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken" which somehow finished up with Haydn's music for "Deutschland uber Alles").

Wilberforce in fact only got to first base in the abolition of slavery; his 1807 Act merely prevented transportation of slaves in British ships. It was not until the year of his death 1833, some time after he had retired from public life, that slavery was abolished (more or less) in the British Empire. The British taxpayer picked up the tab to compensate the slave owners for the loss of their property - 20 million pounds (at least a billion in today's money). The slaves got nothing.
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Amazing Inspiration
edavid13 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this movie at a special screening, tied in with a event to raise awareness of the slavery that still exists today. This strikingly beautiful film tells the true story of William Wilberforce (played with a graceful dignity by Ioan Gruffudd), who, after a struggle that took half his life, led the movement to abolish slavery in England, and stirred the same sentiments that led to America's Civil War.

It's difficult to tell a story about a long, difficult struggle without losing the allegiance of the audience, especially when the topic is politics.

Steven Knight's script helps by including a love story, colorful supporting characters and strong religious undertones (with a brilliant performance by Albert Finney playing the slave-trader turned hymn writer John Newton), and Michael Apted's socially conscious style keeps this film from becoming "Mr. Wilberforce Goes to London" by continually reminding us of the brutality of the slave trade upon which Empire is always built.

The final shot of the film (pre credits) is a freeze frame of Ioan Gruffudd's face as he has finally won, perhaps a nod to transcendental style, where the main character, after great spiritual suffering, is granted an epiphany or beatification, becoming a religious icon for us to meditate upon and, through which, we can glimpse God.
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This is painted over British version of Wilberforce read the comment for the truth
ddelsol30 March 2007
The movie Amazing Grace purports to tell the story of the single white man who 'saved' poor passive Africans from the vicious degradations the British were inflicting upon them. Africans themselves play little part in this movie. Olaudah Equiano who was kidnapped at the age of 10, forced into slavery, freed himself, fought for the British, wrote a best-selling autobiography and tirelessly campaigned against slavery, and in many ways was the father of the modern trade unionist movement in his bringing together the industrial working class and urban artisans of the time, gets a meagre four minutes on screen. There are however a number of key facts that have been entirely left out of Mr Wilberforce's 'official' story, or painted over. Wilberforce was not a life- long activist. He only became involved in the anti- slavery movement when sent in by Prime Minister William Pitt. William Pitt was engaged in the buying of Africans for forced recruitment into the West India Regiment, which was then used to suppress African uprisings, after which the soldiers were released back to Africa to engage in further wars against other Africans. Wilberforce opposed the Haitian revolution. Toussaint L'Ouverture and tens of thousands of Africans fought for their freedom from 1791-1804, but Wilberforce did not approve of Africans establishing their own freedom and actually voted to send British troops to put down the rebellion and maintain slavery. The Haitians ultimately emerged victorious to become the first independent black nation in the 'New World'.Wilberforce was not against cruelty to Black people. He suggested that blacks should only be whipped at night, as this was better for production. He was also an advocate for Black men being put to work in breeding farms. Slave breeding farms became more popular after the slave trade abolition (1807), which meant an increase in rapes of African girls and Women and more forced pregnancies and abortions. Wilberforce was a drug addict (opium) and a frequent user of brothels. At this time, many African women were forced to work in brothels in England as the English pimps could make more money from them. Wilberforce was against women's movements to end the slave trade. In 1824 when Elisabeth Heyrich published a pamphlet calling for immediate freedom, rather than welcoming her support, Wilberforce denounced her "as such things were not the concern of women". He also did not wish women to have the vote.Wilberforce did not want immediate freedom for African people but thought it should be phased in over decades. Hence his comments - "If we can prevent the planter buying more slaves the only way he will be able to increase his stock is with the sons and daughters of the slaves he already has. When members and friends of the African and Asian Society dined at a tavern in 1816,with Wilberforce in the chair, the token Africans and Asians invited to the gathering were separated from the other guests by a screen set across one end of the room Wilberforce promoted missionary work When he retired from his campaigning, Wilberforce became heavily involved in training missionaries. The Christian faith was heavily involved in the slave trade, which prompted the recent apology
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Good actors - very poor history
pisanond9 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The role of William Wilberforce in the abolition of the slave trade is an important one. I was interested in seeing a dramatization of the life of this important historical character and of the period in which he lived.

First, regarding the movie: it is a well acted period piece. It effectively shows many of the conventions of the period though it does so through a familiar stilted manner--in the way that an 18th and early 19th century gentleman of privileged means would want one to portray his or her time. The actors are all first-rate and they play their roles with both sensitivity and insight. The screenplay is somewhat confusing since the settings of the flashbacks in the movie are not sufficiently different between the periods to provide the sharp contrast that aid the viewer in following the story. They are also somewhat unnecessary since they are based on Wilberforce narrating his life while pursuing a late-life romance that never existed in reality. More on this to follow.

Now for the history, which is nearly non-existent. Mr. William Wilberforce was one of many abolitionists instrumental in the abolition of the slave trade, this much is true, and his lifetime commitment to his cause is one from which to draw lessons. Unfortunately any lessons that the movie can hope to tease from the history is purely fictional. Mr. Wilberforce befriended but was not in the same party of William Pitt, who was to be Prime Minister. He was an independent MP and his work habits considered poor. There is no evidence that Pitt ever offered him a place in his government though Wilberforce allied himself with his friend. He went through a type of religious conversion after traveling through Europe in 1784, not spontaneously as a result of study. His opposition to the slave trade did not come from a childhood friendship with John Newton but after meeting James Ramsay in 1783. He consulted Newton later in life after his activism. He did not become completely committed to the cause until 1786 after some urging by the abolitionist society known as the Testonites. He supported Pitt during the War with France in the suspension of Habeus Corpus and the infamous "Gagging Bills" that outlawed public gatherings of greater than 50 people. He did not marry a woman who followed his career and was herself an activist. His wife was, indeed, Barbara Ann Spooner but she displayed little interest in Wilberforce's political activities, tending herself to bearing him six children in less than 10 years and tending to his failing health later in life. They were married in 1797.

While Wilberforce's contribution to the abolition of the slave trade is undeniable there are others whose commitment and sacrifice was just as great or greater, such as Thomas Clarkson and others. The movie, therefore, comes off as a bit of anti-historical propaganda and, so, being a historical fiction of sorts, in the final analysis fails.
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The subject matter deserves so much better . . .
mrood26 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I'm sorry: even the people who are unenthusiastic about this film are being a-way too nice. This is a bad movie. Gorgeously mounted, chock-a-block full of A-list stars, but deadly dull, and on a topic that could have made for a great picture. My companion dozed off on several occasions, and only having recently read Vincent Carretta's biography of Olaudah Equiano sustained me. So it was jarring to find Apted uncritically depicting Equiano's assertions that he was of noble birth in Africa. One of the most pathetically laughable scenes is one in which lawyer James Stephens throws out a critical legal term and then explains that it's Latin: Hellllooo? They've established earlier in the scene that only the abolitionist faithful have come to the meeting, and all educated Englishmen of the time would know Latin, probably even self-educated Equiano. Stephens' remark is for the benefit of 21st century audiences, but surely there was a less ridiculous way to impart that. By the end of the film, I think I was actually cringing and wondering how much of what I was seeing was accurate.
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