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Rain pours down over the gray English countryside as a carriage pulled
by horses splashes through the muck. A man's face at the carriage
window turns to see a couple of grubby peasants standing by their
wagon. They are viciously beating an exhausted horse, coal black, lying
helplessly in the mire in his harness, struggling occasionally to rise.
The carriage stops, and oblivious to the protestations of his escort,
the man gets out into the rain. Recognizing William Wilberforce, member
of the English parliament, the peasants listen sullenly as he tells
them, "Use kindness, not a whip, to get your horse up." Then they throw
the whip aside, and Wilberforce drives off.
It is the perfect foreshadowing for the fascinating story to follow. Wilberforce, an animal lover, and instrumental in founding the SPCA, experiences a spiritual awakening through the gruff counsel of his old pastor John Newton, former slave trader converted to Christ who penned the famous hymn "Amazing Grace." Wilberforce gradually comes to realize that not just helpless animals need a defender, but untold numbers of African people who suffer without voice under cruel oppression as slaves. This cause, linked to his newfound faith, impassions him for the next twenty years to lobby for change against a complacent and sometimes hostile parliament.
The film is beautifully photographed, rich with texture and detail. But the powerful performances of the little-known cast (at least in the New World!) are equally rich in texture and detail, as they bring to life the wonderful screenplay.
"Amazing Grace" successfully draws you into the holy passion of a man committed to righting a grievous wrong. It strikes a chord in you, and you leave the theater feeling empowered to "go and do likewise."
If you see nothing else this season or next, see this.
great, great, great! One of the best things Amazing Grace has going for it is Gruffudd's enthusiastic, heartfelt performance. Probably best known to American audiences as Horatio Hornblower, the Welsh actor is no stranger to period drama, and his ease in knickers and puffy shirts helps ground the film and make Wilberforce an accessible, down-to-earth hero rather than a crusading zealot. Meanwhile, with her arch looks and knowing smiles, Garai gives her relatively thankless role--basically, Barbara is an excuse for exposition-driven flashbacks--a spark of fun. Finney does a little (mostly justified) scenery chewing as Newton, while fellow veteran Michael Gambon has some delightfully devilish moments as Wilberforce's unexpected political ally, Lord Charles Fox. And Rufus Sewell, who often ends up playing smooth baddies, is both witty and wily as fervent abolitionist Thomas Clarkson.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Amazing Grace is the story of William Wilberforce, a Member of
Parliament chiefly responsible for the abolition of slavery in the
British Empire in the latter part of the 18th century and beginning of
the 19th. Focusing on the political struggle as opposed to the
individual stories of slaves themselves, the film's creators have
crafted a moving and highly entertaining story of a now mostly
forgotten period in world history.
We begin with an introduction to the 'ordinary world' of Wilberforce. Right away he's depicted as someone who is compassionate toward animals after he alights from his coach and prevents two men from beating a horse (it's one of Blake Snyder's 'Save the Cat' moments: according to the late screen writing guru Snyder, a good screenplay always has a moment early on where the protagonist does a good deed, creating audience sympathy). After Wilberforce arrives at his cousin's estate, he dreams of smashing glasses during a banquet held by high society people, foreshadowing his struggle with pro-slavery forces throughout the movie. We're also introduced to Barbara Spooner, the woman he eventually marries. No sparks fly between them during their first meeting and Wilberforce appears disinterested with the prospect of hooking up with her.
Wilberforce is depicted as a complex character from the outset. But his moral compass is always firm (as he looks in the mirror, images of slaves in chains appearthese flashbacks to the actual scenes of slavery are never overdone).
Before we break into Act 2 of the story, there's always some kind of 'inciting incident' or catalyst which gets the action moving. In Amazing Grace, the flashback to 15 years earlier, marking Wilberforce's early career as a politician, is the actual inciting incident. We see the extremely articulate and witty Wilberforce as a young man in Parliament, debating with conservatives over the course of the war with America. There's a great scene where the Duke of Clarence (brilliantly played by Toby Jones) shocks our modern day sensibilities with his request to "fetch my n-gger"his black servant is brought in and offered by the Duke as a wager during a card game with Wilberforce. While Wilberforce does walk out in disgust, he doesn't hold a grudge against his fellow MP's (Members of Parliament). He realizes he needs to work with these people and movingly sings 'Amazing Grace' to show them just where his sentiments lie. Wilberforce's internal conflict is dramatized as he communes with nature on his country estate. He's conflicted about whether he should pursue a solitary spiritual life as opposed to continuing his career in politics. His servant who quotes Francis Bacon, points out that serving God and pursuing political ends in the cause of justice are not incompatible. Wilberforce's eccentric personality is also depicted: his mansion is overflowing with animals and beggars who he can't say no to--bent on obtaining a free lunch.
We break into Act 2 when the a group of abolitionists visit Wilberforce. The key moment is when Henry Clarkson, one of the more radical abolitionists, displays the actual chains at the dinner table used by slave traders and when former slave Olaudah Equiano opens his shirt to reveal how he was branded during the time of his captivity. The first half of Act 2 of Amazing Grace involves the initial successes of the abolitionists. We skip forward to the 'present time' and a series of events unfold including Wilberforce's developing relationship with Barbara Spooner, introduction of the principal antagonist, Lord Tarleton, the defection of Charles Fox, the pro-slavery MP who joins the small group of anti-slavery MPs, and Wilberforce dramatically forcing upper crust Londoners (partying on a boat) to take in the "smell of death' from a slave ship docked in the Harbor. The midpoint of the story is usually a 'false victory' for the protagonist and his allies. In Amazing Grace, the abolitionists' publicity campaign is working. Fifty thousand copies of Equiano's book have been sold in two months and Wilberforce remarks (in a voice-over), "our message was everywhere."
The second half of Act 2 usually leads to a temporary defeat for the protagonist. Despite collecting 390,000 signatures on a petition and presenting it to Parliament, the war with France has turned public opinion against the abolitionists. Slavery is seen as necessary to the economy and the public now believes its abolition will undermine the war effort. Prime Minister Pitt can no longer support Wilberforce given the changed political realities. The end of Act 2 usually features a 'dark moment of the soul' for the protagonist. Members of the public walk out on an anti-slavery deacon's sermon and Wilberforce has another attack of his 'colitis', symbolizing the effect of the pro-slavery forces' counterattack.
At the beginning of Act 3, the protagonist must regroup and once again attempt to battle his opponents. Wilberforce's wedding to Barbara Spooner serves as a brief respite before he goes into battle once again. This time, the abolitionists are aided by James Stevens, a lawyer who devises a plan to seize French ships sailing under neutral American flags. Since 80% of slave ships are under the American flag, removing the protection of the neutral flags, will effectively end the slave trade. The climax occurs when Wilberforce and his allies give free racetrack tickets to MPs who aren't there for the crucial vote regarding the French ships.
Wilberforce now returns to his 'ordinary world' which has been transformed. His life has been renewedhe's now able to cope with his crippling colitis and his wife has given him six children. Finally, he lives to see an 283 to 16 vote in Parliament abolishing slavery throughout the British empire. Amazing Grace is not only a great history lesson. The casting and performances are superb and the story is inspirational. This is a film that should be viewed multiple times.
If you enjoy stories about the interior struggle, perseverance,
bravery, heroism and love and could use some good news regarding the
Anglo-Saxon Protestant male, then go see this move.
No need to hesitate if you are repulsed by violence and gore, the movie has none of it.
What we read and what we see does more than make us interesting conversationalists--it shapes us and gives us something to fall back on when our own lives become difficult.
This movie will lift your spirit and make you wish you had done more for the common good. Go see this movie. And if you have teenagers, take them too. We may them to show similar heroism someday.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Why go see a mindless, massively historically altered, action film like
300 when one can see something that is not only for the large part
historical accurate but moving as well. That is exactly what Amazing
Grace is. Amazing Grace is a moving, inspirational, true story of what
one man and a righteous cause can accomplish. Add on to the story
itself some terrific acting and excellent production values and you get
the first great film of the year.
Ioan Gruffudd gives an outstanding (and possibly Oscar worthy) performance as William Wilberforce. He is intense in the scenes where he is passionate and he is just as believable in the scenes where he is disgruntled. Not to mention him and Romola Garai share chemistry as a romantic couple and that he also is highly believable as the best friend of the Prime Minister. This is Grufford's best work to date and I hope to see more work of this caliber in the future.
The supporting cast is top-notch as well. Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Prime Minister Pitt and, as I wrote above, he shares a lot of chemistry with Gruffudd. The same is true of Romola Garai who plays the wife of Wilberforce. She is convincing as a figure whose passionate views could make Wilberforce fall in love and continue a struggle he has lost faith in. Albert Finney makes a few dabbles into the film as the man behind the song, John Newton. He is excellent as the guilt ridden slave ship captain turned preacher. Michael Gambon is also excellent as one of Wilberforce's biggest supporters in Parliament. Roundign out this amazing cast is the villains: Ciarán Hinds and the ever excellent Toby Jones.
The film's script is near perfect. The story is a true one which proves that fact is, as always, better then fiction. The story never delves too deeply into sentimentally but keeps the story's emotional power in firm check. The scenes of debate are tense and even at times frustrating. The only fault of the writing is the lack of a point of view from the slaves themselves. We are given only a few brief glimpses into their world and the basis of the film is given to us only in those glimpses and some of the dialog. Yet the writing supplements the acting and by the end of the film the audience (at least the one I saw this film with) was cheering and applauding the final vote in Parliament.
The production values of the film are high and impressive. The film manages to take you in and bring back to a distant and gone time and place. The world as it was then comes alive in a way that few other films manage to do. This is evident throughout the sets and costumes. Also there is the score by David Arnold who creates a score that captures all the emotional power of the story and is the composers best work to date.
Amazing Grace is the first great film of 2007. It is a shame that other, lesser films have overshadowed the film in both box office dollars and in the minds of audiences. This a film that leaves you believing that with the right cause and a passionate person to back it and nurture it, anything is possible. It is a story that should not, and hopefully never will, be forgotten.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Amazing Grace is a character study of the greatest humanitarian, and -
if faith needs to be mixed with works to be effective - probably the
greatest Christian in British history. After becoming a Christian,
William Wilberforce went to his good friend William Pitt, England's
future Prime Minister, who advised that if he really wanted to help
people, he should go into politics rather than the ministry. This was
later affirmed by his childhood pastor, John Newton. The film opens
with Wilberforce intervening on behalf of a horse that is being beaten
to death on the side of the road, and, for the rest of the film and the
remainder of his life, he fought for the rights of all things livings.
At a time when there were very few social institutions beyond
workhouses and prisons, Wilberforce personally began or participated in
69 charities to help both humans and animals.
However, the thing Wilberforce is best known for is almost single handedly ending the slave trade in Great Britain. The vast majority of members in the British House of Commons owned some interest in the trade; so getting them to denounce it and change the laws was next to impossible. Yet, through perseverance, twenty years of annually introducing his bill, tirelessly working to educate and change the opinion of the public, and great detriment to his own health, Wilberforce finally prevailed. On the day he did, he got a standing ovation from his fellow Members of Parliament. There has never been a better example of how doing the right thing, no matter how difficult and no matter how long it takes, pays off in the end.
This is a great example of British drama, which is second to none in the world. The cast is a virtual who's who of British cinema: Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower, King Arthur, Black Hawk Down) as William Wilberforce; Albert Finney (Tom Jones, Scrooge, Erin Brockovich) as John Newton, former slave ship owner, Wilberforce's childhood pastor and the man who wrote the song, "Amazing Grace"; Benedict Cumberbatch (Hawking) as William Pitt the Younger, who became England's youngest Prime Minister at age 24; Romola Garai (Vanity Fair) as Barbara Spooner, a beautiful young redhead that shares Wilberforce's passion for reform, and with whom he had a whirlwind courtship and marriage; Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell, Ciaran Hinds; and introducing Youssou N'Dour as Olaudah Equaiano, a former slave turned best-selling author, and one of the key figures in the fight to end slavery.
Ioan Gruffudd is superb at portraying Wilberforce over a twenty-year period, in health and out, through public battles and private, showing disinterest and then love for Barbara Spooner, agonizing over the plight of his fellow creatures, delighting over God's smallest creations as well as His greatest victories. Albert Finney is remarkable as the elderly John Newton, especially when you compare it to his performance as the elderly Scrooge 37 years earlier: they are almost identical. When he utters his famous line - "I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior" - chills ran down my spine. Romola Garai infuses the role of Barbara Spooner with fire, wisdom and tenderness. And Benedict Cumberbatch is wonderful as William Pitt, Wilberforce's lifelong friend. The wig-wearing Members of Parliament are also interesting to listen to and watch.
The costumes and sets are extraordinary, cinematography good - "old school," like Chariots Of Fire - and direction by Michael Apted solid, based on a good - not great - script by Stephen Knight. The best part of the film for me was the final rendition of the song Amazing Grace, played by (I assume) the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in front of Westminster Abbey, where Wilberforce's body now lays in rest next to his friend William Pitt. The shot begins at the back and facing the corps, with only the bagpipes showing and playing. As the camera moves ahead of the marching guardsmen, it reveals the drums, who join in the song. Then it reveals the horns, who add to the mix; and finally ends with the woodwinds. It finishes with a full shot of the entire band, and then pans up to reveal the top of Westminster Abbey. It's a great shot, a great song, and a great way to end such a wonderful movie.
Legacy of Wilberforce is awesome. I got turned on to his legacy by
Desiringgod.org They have a free pdf book online if you want to get the
details about his life. You know there are lights that shine bright and
he was one that through the sands of time will go down as a true great
Gentleman. Truthfully no movie can do his legacy justice, but you
shouldn't limit yourself to movies check out his bios and the real
historical records and you will find yourself in love with the cause
and with the man. On the movie, I love this actor. I got turned on to
him through the Horatio Hornblower series. I think him a comfortable
actor in every respect.
Read the real bios on Wilberforce you will see his fabric is made of something greater than what we see every day in our politics... He truly had a purpose and stood for a greater truth... awesome.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Amazing Grace (2006) is a well made, historically accurate, entertaining movie about the abolition of the slavery. Ioan Gruffard was very good as the lead role in this. Benedict Cumberbatch was very enjoyable and believable in his role as the prime minister. The dialogue and script was very delightful and well written, I was satisfied with that aspect. The costume design was spot on for the time period and very articulately designed, very impressive. The movie was also very moving and really did a great job of reaching the audience on a personal level, and it was obviously very important that this movie accomplished that goal. Ioan and the woman he ends up falling in love with have really great on screen chemistry and she did a great job playing the main love interest, I really enjoyed her performance. This movie is really worth a good watch, it's sad, touching, and very well made. 8/10 for amazing grace.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Amazing Grace (2006): Dir: Michael Apted / Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Rufus Sewell, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Benedict Cumberbatch: Overwhelming and beautiful portrayal of God's grace upon those burdened with difficulties. In this case the subject at hand is slavery and the struggle for one political individual with a conscience to break the slave trade. Set in the 1800's Ioan Gruffudd heads the fight against slave trade but discovers quickly that the battle isn't an easy one although he has his supporters as well as his oppressors. Director Michael Apted is backed by tremendous production and costume design that convincingly portray the time period. Apted is the appropriate director for this project having made Coal Miner's Daughter and Gorillas in the Mist. This ranks as one of his greatest achievements backed with a production that backs the periods. Gruffudd does an outstanding job as one man attempting to influence many against hardship. In supporting roles are Rufus Sewell as a clergymen who approaching Gruffudd regarding the issue. Plus strong veteran performances by Albert Finney and Michael Gambon whom also sense that this issue will be a dire journey to complete as well. Tremendous production highlights the appeal and underscores the core message, which regards freedom and the ability to sense God's grace at hand. Score: 10 / 10
The opening of "Amazing Grace," has a written statement that sets the
stage for the movie. It reads, "By the late 18th century, over 11
million African men, women and children had been taken from Africa to
be used as slaves in the West Indies and the American colonies. Great
Britain was the mightiest super-power on earth and its empire was built
on the backs of slaves. The slave trade was considered acceptable by
all but a few. Of those, even fewer were brave enough to speak against
The film is part biopic, part historical drama, and part fiction. It is an excellent story about slavery, and the efforts in 18th century England to stop the trafficking and sale of human beings. The focus is on one man who led a small group of dedicated people in the fight to end the slave trade. William Wilberforce, played by Ioan Gruffudd, was a man of many accomplishments in England. This film tells the story of his 26-year effort to abolish the slave trade. And, his inspiration for ending slavery completely within the British Empire by the time of his death in 1833.
Gruffudd is just one of a large cast, all of whom deliver outstanding performances in their roles. Benedict Cumberbatch plays an excellent William Pitt (the Younger). Albert Finney is excellent as John Newton. He is a former slave-trader, now reformed, and writer of the song, "Amazing Grace." Michael Gambon is excellent as Lord Charles Fox (who was not a Lord in real life). Rufus Sewell as Thomas Clarkson, Ramola Garai as Barbara Spooner, and Youssou N'Dour as Olaudah Equiano all excelled in their roles. The rest of the supporting cast, down to Richard the butler, played by Jeremy Swift, were excellent.
Two key fictional characters also were played quite well. Ciarán Hinds excelled as Lord Tarleton, a leader of those who opposed the abolition of the slave trade. He is another character of peerage who would not have served in the House of Commons, but the House of Lords. And, Toby Jones was very good as the fictitious character, the Duke of Clarence, who supposedly was the young son of the king. While not a character in this film, the king would have been King George III. He reigned almost the entire lifespan of Wilberforce from 1760 (age 12) to 1820. The last 11 years of his life, he suffered a mental illness that earned him the title "Mad King George." This was, however, after the ending of the slave trade in 1807.
The film overall does fair justice to the principal characters involved in the battles to end the slave trade and eventually slavery. The role of Lord Fox was highly fictionalized. He was ahead of Wilberforce in calling for an end to the slave trade as was William Pitt the Younger. While many of the situations in the film are true, the actual details and facts are altered.
I think the life of Olaudah Equiano would make for an interesting movie itself. Most of the details given in the film were factual. But the film doesn't mention his many accomplishments and travels as an explorer and merchant. He also went under the name of Gustavus Vassa, and later married an English woman. The couple had two daughters. He was 52 yeas old at his death. A scene in the movie has Wilberforce visiting his grave site, but in reality, the exact location of his burial is unknown.
Movie buffs may be interested to know that the U.S. abolished the slave trade within months of the action by England. But, just as in England, slavery continued. England was much faster in ending slavery outright. That was in 1833, shortly after Wilberforce's death. It took the U.S. until December 6, 1865 to end slavery entirely. That was the date the states ratified the 13th amendment to the Constitution. On Feb. 1 of that year, Pres. Abraham Lincoln approved a joint resolution of Congress that provided for the constitutional amendment.
Other viewers have referred to the film, "Amistad." It is an excellent companion film to "Amazing Grace." These are important stories about the horrors of slavery. And, they are good accounts of some early heroes in the cause to end this horrible abuse of human beings.
Albert Finney's John Newton in this film gives an impassioned reply and charge to Wilberforce when he asks Newton for help. I think it's a nice description of the film's plot. "I can't help you. But do it, Wilber! Do it! Take them on! Blow their dirty, filthy ships out of the water. The planters, sugar barons, Alderman Sugar Cane, the Lord Mayor of London. Liverpool, Boston, Bristol, New York all their streets running with blood, dysentery, puke! You won't come away from these streets clean, Wilber. You'll get filthy with it, you'll dream it, see it in broad daylight. But do it for God's sake." This is an excellent film all around.
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