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When William Wilberforce arose
To do whate’er he could,
He thought to do God’s work and chose
To change the world for good.
 
He’d always hated slavery,
But hid such views until
Friend William Pitt spurred him to be
The sponsor of a bill,
 
A bill to end the slaving trade
On which the rich relied
For sugar and plantation aid,
A bill which quickly died.
 
But he and his few devotees
Declared the horrid truth
Of humans forced to cross the seas
And work away their youth.
 
He showed to all the slaving ships,
The putrid stench of death;
The dreadful news was on his lips
With every living breath.
 
Unlikely allies reared their heads;
Petitions filled with names;
His lamp shone bright, as all light spreads,
But many feared these flames.
 
As France aroused the threat of war,
The cries of Wilberforce
Were called sedition more and more,
Which no one would endorse.
 
His friends withdrew, his health declined,
And laudanum slowed his brain.
He could not change the country’s mind,
Nor ease his brother’s pain.
 
The burns of slaves did haunt his dreams,
Their owners’ searing brands.
He heard their unassisted screams
And glimpsed their shackled hands.
 
At last, a colleague’s forward bid
To find William a wife
Succeeded, and she helped to rid
This torpor from his life.
 
He reconvened his group of friends
To reinstate their mission.
They passed a bill to help their ends
And sneak in abolition.
 
Then, after twenty years, at last,
Of staying on his course,
The bill to end the slave trade passed,
All thanks to Wilberforce.
_____________________
 

So many times when we read history, it is just words on a page. We learn in school that “William Wilberforce helped end the slave trade in 1807,” and we usually take that fact for granted, not realizing the toil and pain that went into making that dream a reality. Great men of the past met with difficulty and discouragement just like we do today, and Amazing Grace is a marvelous biopic that makes that immensely clear.

Ioan Gruffudd is excellent as William Wilberforce, reflecting both his dogged determination and his crestfallen despair, and Albert Finney is equally masterful as his aging minister John Newton, who was the captain of a slave ship before coming to Christ, renouncing his former life, and eventually writing the famous hymn ”Amazing Grace.” The film also features a number of British actors before they became really famous, including Benedict Cumberbatch in one of his first film roles as Wilberforce’s friend and Prime Minister William Pitt. Another recognizable face is Toby Jones as the Duke of Clarence, before his more visible roles in the Captain America and Hunger Games films. Also interesting is that Michael Gambon and Ciaran Hinds, who both played gentlemen on opposing sides of the slavery issue, ended up playing brothers in the Harry Potter series.

While the film is rather dry at times, it has an exceptional script that allows the characters to speak in 18th century fashion without their conversations becoming too highbrow for modern audiences. I’m not sure how much of the dialogue was taken from real sources, but many of the parliamentary quips are actually quite clever.

There are some definite historical inaccuracies, the most glaring being the fact that “Amazing Grace” was not put to its now familiar tune at the time Wilberforce sings it in the film. Another mistake (or perhaps embellishment) is that Gambon’s character Charles Fox had died and was not present for the final passage of Wilberforce’s bill. Still, the film references a number of events that make history buffs feel smart, such as the high hopes for the French Revolution before things got bloody. I also love the fact that, although Amazing Grace was directed by atheist Michael Apted, it is not afraid to speak of Christianity in a positive light as the main driving force for abolition. It may not be ideal casual watching, but for those who can stay with Wilberforce through his highs and lows, the payoff at the end is quite satisfying and beautiful.

Best line: (Pitt) “You don’t think we could change things?” (Wilberforce) “I would change myself first.”

 
Artistry: 9
Characters/Actors: 9
Entertainment: 6
Visual Effects: N/A
Originality: 6
Watchability: 5
 
TOTAL: 35 out of 60
 

Next: #263 – Baby Boom

© 2014 S. G. Liput

 

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