It’s been a long time since I have written a movie review; but then, it is a long time since I have seen a movie. The last movie I watched in the theater was the Chronicles of Narnia. This means that, purely by coincidence, I did not watch a single movie at the theater in 2006.
If you asked someone to guess the subject of this film based solely upon the title, you would probably be informed that this is an account of the life and times of John Newton, the slave-trader who, following an epiphany, gave up the slave trade, wrote the timeless hymn “Amazing Grace”, and lived happily ever after. Or something like that.
This explanation would be entirely reasonable. And it would be almost entirely wrong. The movie is actually about the life and times of one William Wilberforce.
Wilberforce was the driving force behind the Abolitionist movement in England in the 18th and 19th centuries. His name is known to every English schoolboy – or at least, should be, if they still teach history back in the Old Country. On the other side of the pond, however, it sometimes seems that History begins with the Mayflower and ends at the National boundaries. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but not by much; most Americans these days seem to learn Geography through the unhappy expedient of war…
…but I digress. Returning to the movie, I found it highly enjoyable on several levels. First, it was a good story well told. It is amazing how many plotless movies manage to make it all the way to the big screen.
Secondly, the quality of the acting was superlative. Most of the actors were faces that I had not seen before. Yet without exception they all did a thoroughly excellent job.
The only qualm that I had was with the pacing – at times it seemed that we were jumping forward and backwards through time without much explanation. However, this must be balanced against the large amount of ground to cover in the two hours alloted to the movie.
I also thought that the horrors of the slavery aspect were not really explored as well as they might, but the end result was a story that could be told to all ages. I would have no problem taking a ten-year-old to see this movie, as served well by its PG rating.
So why the title? In the story, Wilberforce had a friendship with the aforementioned John Newton, and went to him several times for advice. This allowed the producers the luxury of sneaking in the classic hymn a few times – one rendition of which is particularly well done and moving. It also allowed the marketers to give the movie a name that was wholly undeserved and, to my mind, slightly disingenuous, as it had little to do with the film.
There were times, particularly during the first hour, that it seemed like a beautifully-shot documentary, but as it builds to its finale, a human story unfolds that will have you wanting to applaud at the end. You’ll know which scene I am talking about when you get there.
One of the reasons that I have stopped going to the theater was the dearth of good stories, well told. In light of this movie, I may have to re-think that sentiment.
To quote Larry the Cucumber, “I laughed, I cried, It moved me“. Highly Recommended.
Now Reading: The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki