Monday, June 30, 2014

Amazing Grace

Amazing GraceAnyone who has seen AMISTAD or ROOTS needs to see the Michael Apted directed AMAZING GRACE which predates and fills in so much of the political and humanistic tug of war that existed concerning the awful dirty business of the African Slave Trade.Hollywood could not have conjectured a more true film than the actual true and inspiring life of William Wilberforce,a revered heroic figure in England,who,with the help of other abolitionists and political sympathizers,takes on the English Parliament and wins legislation to finally end the Slave Trade in 1807.This movie is SO significant because it is this piece of history that leads other European nations to follow suit in subsequent years and eventually to abolish the trade worldwide.Michael Apted has skillfully rescued this story from being another biopic,and has turned it into a sweeping epic that rings historically true.

No finer actor could have been chosen to play Wilberforce than the Emmy Award winning Welsh marvel Ioan Gruffudd,pronounced YO-an Griffith( HORATIO HORNBLOWER,SOLOMON AND GAENOR,VERY ANNIE MARY).Gruffudd positively understands the heart and soul of Wilberforce,and delivers a tender yet dynamic knockout performance of this absolutely giant among men whose inner convictions and powerful and persuasive rhetoric eventually win over Parliament in a nearly twenty year life-and-death struggle.

This film brings tremendously true and historical understanding of the political machine that was (and frankly still is) in place from 1785 to 1807.Historical figures argue and debate their opposing views while the lives of millions of innocent Africans and the fortunes and supremacies of national pride hang in the balance.The film moves swiftly and is not preachy or at all heavyhanded in any direction.It simply tells and honest and riveting true-to-life story.Some characters and events are combined together to compact the screenplay,but no truth is lost in the outcome.

The film takes it's name from the famous 18th-century renowned hymn AMAZING GRACE,written by the Anglican minister John Newton,who had,years earlier,himself been an active and ardent participant in the selling of African flesh.John Newton is portrayed (a bit much like a crazy old celibate monk) by veteran actor Albert Finney in one of the smaller supporting supporting roles.Though much of what Newton says in the film is directly from his own memoirs,he was a married man,who,historically,valued his wife as his best friend.Now in his declining years,Newton,who has in later years been Rector of a London Church,is sought out by Wilberforce,who sat under Newton's pulpit as a child,to have the old minister help him in the cause of exposing the Slave Trade in all of it's ugliness.As was true in Newton's real life,Finney shows that this is the singlemost painful event in Newton's life thus making it next to impossible to discuss.The film directs Newton and Wilberforce over the course of the twenty years in order for the awful truth to come forth.Proof was necessary to persuade Parliament, and Newton was a key piece to passing the abolitionist legislation.

Up and coming actor Benedict Cumberbatch accurately conveys William Pitt The Younger,in his boyhood friendship with Wilberforce and his subsequent rise to Prime Minister of England.What is inspiring about their relationship is that all of their political idealism comes to fruition showing the power and perseverance that these two young men had in fighting an age old institution that threatened to destabilize all of England.Other historical figures in this film such as Lord Tarlton (the ever amazing Ciaran Hinds)and Equiano (Youssou N'dour),Toby Jones as Lord Clarence (this actor seems to be able to play EVERYTHING!!!) and actors Michael Gambon as Sir Charles Fox do the utmost to bring this film to the heart and consciences of the world today.

This film is simply NOT just another period piece drama or an "inspirational" film;rather it is an artfully scripted,deftly acted and directed and compelling piece of historical drama that all will benefit from viewing.Again,5 *****'s is not sufficient.May there be more films of such quality and substance made like this!


"Amazing Grace" is an exceptional film that chronicles the amazing true story of William Wilberforce, the man who spent twenty years in the British Parliament fighting to end one of mankind's greatest injustices: the slave trade. The film features powerful performances by an outstanding cast, including Ioan Gruffudd ("Fantastic Four," "King Arthur," TV's "Horatio Hornblower") as Wilberforce, whose faith and courage drove his fight for social justice. Albert Finney gives an amazing performance as John Newton, the former slave-ship captain turned pastor, and writer of the beloved hymn "Amazing Grace." Michael Gambon, Romola Garai, Youssou N'Dour, Rufus Sewell, and Nicholas Farrell give outstanding supporting performances.

The rest of the crew does a fantastic job of bringing the world of 18th/19th Century Britain to life. "Amazing Grace" is an amazing film that shows how men of faith can truly help change the world. Amazing Grace, indeed!

Grade: A

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I enjoyed the movie. The historical sets were great. The acting was very good. The dialogs had a ring of truth. The love story, although it was a minor part of the movie, was done well. The story needed to be told and the movie told it well. One of the bad points was the movie jumped around in Wilberforce's life quite a bit. Following the time shifts was confusing at times. As the movie went along, the plot was easier to follow.

I read a short biography of Wilberforce and I heard a talk on Newton. I can't claim any expertise on these men, but what little I know of them made me question the movie's historical accuracy. Newton had a congregation. He was not a hermit mopping up a church. He was a popular Anglican preacher. Finney did a great job in the part, but I don't think it represented Newton very well. Wouldn't a better charactorization have been a more historic portrayal of Newton who was a slave trader that became a slave of Christ by serving and preaching to all? Rather than a guilt-ridden old man?

I also wished the movie spent more time on Wilberforce's conversion and beliefs. Wilberforce was a thoughtful Christian who wrote books on what he believed. Wilberforce's stamina according to Wilberforce was his reformed faith. The movie just had him studying nature in a worshipful manner in his garden.

In summary, I liked the movie and I enjoyed it. The message needed to be told and it was told well. How England avoided a bloody civil war because of this issue and resolved the issues through a peaceful process was instructive. However, Wilberforce and Newton deserved to have a more accurate portrayal of their lives.

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I've long been a fan of William Wilberforce a man that God used greatly for a great cause: the abolition of slavery and the reformation of manners into the English society. Working at a private Christian school, I often refer to Wilberforce as an example to our students of what God can do with one man wholly committed to Him. In fact, I took sixteen of our students to see the movie when it was released and it had a very profound impact on their lives and thinking -they saw with their own eyes the struggle of Wilberforce's life, the great cause to which he gave himself fully, and the great joy that comes from a life given in service to the King of Kings.

While I strongly recommend that all Christians watch this movie, parents I'll warn you that the issue of slavery isn't easy to watch or understand at a young age -I would recommend this movie to middle school students and older, but probably not elementary-aged students.

There are some wonderful resources that you can get to accompany this movie for family discussions and devotions. While most of the Wilberforce books are lengthy, but excellent, let me tell you about a few lesser-known gems. First, John Piper has a great little 76 page book titled Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce -great read. This same material is actually found in another book by Piper that is simply outstanding -it is the third book in a series by Piper to reintroduce our generation to some of the great saints of the faith -Book Three is titled The Roots of Endurance and examines the lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon and William Wilberforce. Finally, one of my favorite finds is a 5 disk CD audio drama set titled Amazing Grace produced by the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre -you can listen to the lives of Newton, Wilberforce and Olaudah Equiano (a slave who purchased his freedom and was instrumental in the abolition movement in England).

So, purchase the movie, but also look for these additional resources to help deepen the discussion at home with your kids.

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AMAZING GRACE is a beautifully mounted, well-scripted, powerful film that reminds us that there were heroes in the late 1700s who vehemently fought the fight for abolition of slavery. Benefiting from a tight intelligent script by Steven Knight and directed with great sensitivity and fluidity by Michael Apted, the film captures the flavor of the turn of the 18th century into 19th century in England when slavery was a commodity the wealthy could ill afford to lose, and how the courage and perseverance of William Wilberforce created probably one of the first human rights movements on record.

William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) witnessed the horrors of transporting slaves from Africa to be sold around the world to wealthy plantation owners and to serve as cheap and disrespected servants to the British populace. Encouraged by a previous slave dealer John Newton (Albert Finney) turned contrite priest, his friend Prime Minister William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch), and the informed woman of his life Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai), Wilberforce bonds with a band of abolitionists including Thomas Clarkson (Rufus Sewell) and Oloudaqh Equiano (Youssou N'Dour) and begins long years of battling for abolition in the Parliament where cads such as Lord Tarleton (Ciarán Hinds) and the Duke of Clarence (Toby Jones) fight his every word.

One of the hallmarks of this fine film is the dignity it sustains: in a film that could have easily focused on depictions of slave abuse to make its point, it instead elects to keep the focus on the heart of the struggle against the inhumanity by subtle yet powerful means. The title of the film, of course, comes form the song the reformed John Newton wrote as he had a life altering experience to end his slave trading to fight for human rights. It is a haunting reminder that is used throughout the film in the score by David Arnold. The cast is uniformly excellent with not only first class performances by each of the leads, but also by superb cameos from such fine artists as Michael Gambon, Nicholas Farrell, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Jeremy Swift, and Stephen Campbell Moore. The atmosphere of both elegance and poverty of London is captured in the cinematography by Remi Adefarasin. This is an epic film with a powerful message that deserves the attention of us all. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, November 07

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