Review by Gerald Levy
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary: Director & Ioan Gruffudd; Amazing Grace: How Sweet The Sound; Chris Tomlin Music Video; Trailer.
AMAZING Grace is a good film about a great and good man, and about the evils of the slave trade.
William Wilberforce was a selfless pioneer in the reform of social abuses. He’s best remembered for his eventually successful campaign for the abolition of the slave trade.
Amazing Grace tells the story of this campaign, which had been begun by the Quakers, and educates its audience as to the millions of deaths and terrible suffering involved in the transport of slaves from Africa, as well as to their appalling suffering in sugar plantations.
There are two problems in making a quasi-documentary of this kind. It has to be kept interesting, and it has to be kept accurate.
Steven Knight, the scriptwriter, and the director Michael Apted keep it interesting by introducing a large number of well-acted roles, with sharp dialogue.
Ioan Gruffud works hard as Wilberforce and depicts him as young in bearing, very religious, and slightly unhinged. Benedict Cumberbatch gets Wilberforce’s friend and supporter, William Pitt, just right; and Rufus Sewell is a convincing Thomas Clarkson, Wilberforce’s chief henchman.
Some of the small parts are very well acted: by Georgie Glen in the miniscule part of Hannah More, and by Romola Garai in the slightly larger part of Barbara Spooner, who succeeded in marrying Wilberforce.
Albert Finney as John Newton is perhaps a touch OTT. The most impressive actor, although with a small part, is Michael Gambon, playing Charles James Fox, mistakenly referred to throughout as Lord Charles Fox.
Much of the film is set in an exquisite English country house and garden, and it includes a few up-stairs down-stairs episodes. And it’s particularly good in showing another house, the House of Commons, in a hostile mood – although the House is shown as somewhat oddly situated, and somewhat oddly constituted.
Is the film accurate? Not entirely, by any means; but it is more accurate and much more detailed than is commonly found in bio-pics.
Amazing Grace‘s natural audience is probably composed of people aged, say, 15-22, and in particular those who are religious – it has a slightly Sunday School flavour.
It may have the worthy purpose of educating young people who live in the American Bible Belt as to the evils of the slave trade and of slavery. But since it is often amusing, and always educative about slavery, pressure groups, and the House of Commons, you do not have to be American, religious, or even young, to find the film both informative and fairly entertaining.
Running Time: 118 minutes