This is one amazing film about an extraordinary man’s fight against slavery in 18th Century England. The story chronicles Christian Parliamentarian and social reformer William Wilberforce’s mammoth battles in the British political arena to abolish the slave trade.
At that time, slaves were shipped from Africa to the West Indies in appalling conditions, many arriving dead. They were chained to work on sugar plantations of British owners. Abolishing the slave trade meant a threat to the very economy of Great Britain. William Wilberforce had given up twenty youthful years and his health to champion the anti-slavery cause. Three days before his death, he saw his life-long advocacy triumphant as the abolition bill passed in the House of Commons, demolishing the institution of slavery in all of the British Empire.
The film is a display of superb artistry. First of all, it benefits from a well-written screenplay by Steven Knight. The award-winning Knight’s other film Eastern Promises (2007) has just garnered 3 Golden Globes nominations including Best Picture.
The exceptional cast is most satisfying to watch. Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd is William Wilberforce, whose performance is intelligent and engaging. He is effectively supported by a mass of extraordinary British actors, among them the veterans Albert Finney and Michael Gambon.
Albert Finney plays John Newton, the Pastor and mentor of Wilberforce. It is from Newton that Wilberforce draws his inspiration and strength for his cause. Newton himself used to be a slave trader. His ephiphany came during a deadly storm while he was on a slave ship. The tempest he encountered reflected the torrents of guilt billowing in his own conscience. Ultimately yielding to a merciful God, Newton was totally changed. He abandoned the slave trade, his own livelihood, and became a Christian Pastor, spreading the message of God’s love and the freedom God had intended for all people. His writing of the tune and lyrics of Amazing Grace summed up the poignant conversion in his life.
The meticulously researched and designed period costumes and set, together with the fine cinematography bring out a beautiful and engaging film. In many scenes, I feel like I’m looking through a portal of Rambrandt and Vemeer’s paintings in motion.
The DVD is packed full of commentary and background information. The music video of Chris Tomlin playing the piano and singing his contemporary version of Amazing Grace is both a visual and audio delight.
One note of caution though, the film follows closely the British Parliamentary proceedings and political debates of the time. Those anticipating a more romantic rendition may not have their expectation met. However, I find the film very educational, informative, as well as inspiring. What better gift to give this Christmas than the message inspired by the song Amazing Grace:
Chris Tomlin – Amazing Grace
(My Chains Are Gone)
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, Amazing grace
~ ~ ~ 3 Ripples