2006 - United Kingdom - 117 minutes
Director - Michael Apted
Writer - Steven Knight
Internet Movie Database User Rating - 7.7/10 - Link to IMDb
My Rating - 5 of 5 Stars

I loved this film. It has just the right amount of excellent production values, great acting, attractive young stars - some distinguished older ones - and a magnificent history lesson. When I think of slavery, I generally focus upon the Americas or ancient civilizations and have never been totally aware of the importance of slavery to the economies of such European countries as England and France during the Eighteenth Century. Amazing Grace - taken from the hymn written by John Newton who was a former slave trader - is the story of William Wilberforce (1759-1833) who tirelessly fought for social reform and the end of the slave trade in England.

Wilberforce was a dynamic man and an extraordinary orator who entered politics as a very young man. He campaigned for many causes including the reformation of manners and the Society for the Suppression of Vice, free education for the poor, the introduction of Christianity to India, the foundation of the Church Mission Society, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but his greatest accomplishment was probably his campaign against the slave trade leading to the Slave Trade Act in 1807 and eventually the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

The film basically covers his life between 1785 and 1807 ending with the triumph of passing the Slave Trade Act. Ioan Gruffudd is exciting as a young Wilberforce who is so passionate about nature, God, and justice for the common man. He is depicted as a man who has not allowed his position and wealth to soil his humanity. Gruffudd gives us a Wilberforce we would all like to know and with whom we could share a genuine friendship.

One of Wilberforce's lifelong friends was William Pitt who remains to this day the youngest Prime Minister of England. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Pitt as a lasting friend and practical political guide to the more idealistic Wilberforce. I have only seen films in which Cumberbatch plays selfish prigs, and it was a great change of pace to see him in this role.

Romola Garai is extraordinary beautiful and witty as Barbara who would become Wilberforce's wife. In reality, she was seventeen years his junior and didn't take as much interest in politics as depicted in the film, but by all accounts she was a special woman who swept a fairly confirmed bachelor off his feet.

Add numerous other well-known persons in British history - along with a goodly number of odd characters - and you get a superbly entertaining and strikingly beautiful film. A love story between two attractive and extremely likable people, loyal friendships, and an enlightening lesson in history - what more could you ask for two hours of your time?

Post Script: You might be interested in reading my piece The Bill of Sale upon the topic of slavery.

Neil Turner
November 19, 2007

Amazing Grace