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Amazing Grace (2007)
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by Doug Bentin

"Long on wit and short on piety"
4 stars

It’s common knowledge among us Hollywoodistas that February, like early Fall, is the dumping ground for third rate movies that are seen by only the most desperate film-goers and then in spite of the warnings given by reviewers.

But here comes “Amazing Grace” hot on the heels of “Breach” and we have two movies in a February that are worth going to see. I’m beginning to suspect the end of days.

“Amazing Grace” tells the story of 18th century Englishman William Wilberforce, a member of the House of Commons—he was the son of a wealthy merchant—and his long campaign to get the slave trade abolished in Britain. Unfortunately, there is no level of degradation to which humans will not allow others to sink if there is a profit to be made, and his bills before Parliament were defeated year after year.

As a relatively young man, Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd, “Fantastic Four”) went through a conversion experience. He had been something of a moderate roué at Cambridge, where he met and became a friend of the future prime minister, William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch). Later, at the time of his conversion, he decided to give up his seat in Parliament and devote his life to quiet contemplation.

This weak determination is upset by Pitt, who introduces him to an abolitionist group, and Wilberforce’s future is set.

For many of us, his name is familiar but Wilberforce’s story is not. Filmmakers tend to overlook men like this in favor of telling and re-telling tales of the powerful. The early 18th century debate between Goodness and Greatness is referred to only tangentially in the film, but it is the heart of Wilberforce’s early dilemma. His friend, the evangelist minister and former slave ship captain John Newton (Albert Finney) convinces him that he can do good with his faith through politics, words that still echo today. Fortunately for the people he helped set free, Wilberforce didn’t achieve his goals through lying so none of his victories have been overturned with changes in the body politic.

The film has the virtues and vices of historical biopics. It is at times a little stiff and we know how the problem is going to be resolved, but the cast is fine and finds ways to inject a great deal of humor into the story. Michael Gambon, as Lord Charles Fox, who becomes an abolitionist, is sly throughout.

Romola Garai (“Vanity Fair”) is charming and feisty as Barbara Spooner, the young woman Wilberforce woos and weds within two weeks of meeting, Rufus Sewell (“The Illusionist”) is one of the anti-slavery team and he moves convincingly between zealotry and despair, and Jeremy Swift is amusing as Richard, the Francis Bacon-quoting Butler.

The pro-slavery side is represented ably by Toby Jones as the king’s son, the Duke of Clarence, and Ciaran Hinds (Caesar on “Rome”) as Lord Tarleton.

Michael Apted (“Enigma,” “The World is Not Enough”) directs cleanly, Steven Knight’s script is peppered with wit, and Remi Adefarasin’s cinematography captures the beauty of England’s countryside and the wretchedness of its cities.

And the film’s title? Newton, the former slave ship captain, wrote the hymn after retiring from his bloody trade. Blind and in failing health, he survives long enough to know the anti-slavery bill finally passes. The recipient of an amazing grace, indeed.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15168&reviewer=405
originally posted: 03/25/07 21:03:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2007 Portland Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/12/16 Katrina Weiss Uplifting and educational, without being too cheesy or pedantic. 4 stars
1/12/09 Anonymous. great scenery, well acted, i learned a few things watching this :P 4 stars
10/16/08 Carl If only people had that much passion for something real. 5 stars
1/17/08 R.W.Welch Adept chronicle of the man who broke the slave trade. Finney scores again. 4 stars
1/15/08 mb Good movie 4 stars
10/01/07 Andrew Kercher Well-done adaptation of compelling story, but hard to follow at times. Worth 3 viewings! 4 stars
8/17/07 chienne U yanks are just SO uneducated. U never got over 1776 did you? 4 stars
6/15/07 William Goss Dry material, overwrought moments salvaged by dedicated cast, direction. 3 stars
5/10/07 Fenstwhip Shiggins The other side of what caused the War of 1812? That part left unexplained. 4 stars
3/07/07 Heather Stunning piece of work 5 stars
9/17/06 Ancaster Film Fest Beautifully filmed and acted 4 stars
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  23-Feb-2007 (PG)
  DVD: 13-Nov-2007

  23-Mar-2007 (PG)
  DVD: 06-Aug-2007


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