Hooray! Three cheers, at least, maybe four or five, how about half a dozen, for Amazing Grace! I am amazed! I am very impressed. I loved this film. It’s got great acting (led by the very good-looking Ioan Gruffudd as William Wilberforce), gorgeous costumes, intelligent & catchy & well-paced screenplay (by Steven Knight), delightful & nicely peripheral love story, & all the passion of a man on fire to do good—on fire with the Spirit of God burning him up from the inside out. It’s directed in a lively, sometimes confusing present—flashback—future style by Michael Apted, dancing between powerful public speeches to luscious private moments: the Prime Minister & his best-friend MP racing barefoot through the garden; the beautiful red-headed Barbara Spooner (played by Romola Garai) snorting into her dinner because of a private joke about botany; John Newton (Albert Finney) wearing sackcloth as he mops the stone floor of his very chilly- & Medieval-looking chapel. Suffering is not held at bay; the stench & sweat & death of slavery ripple painfully underneath at all times.
Perhaps Hollywood is finally getting the message that there is an audience for beautiful, lush, challenging, wholesome, edifying films with messages of faith & human rights. Or maybe “we” are finally realizing that when such a movie comes out, “we” should jump to acclaim it, & not hide our heads & whine that it’s got some foul language or a bit of décolletage or not enough gospel, but rather applaud it enthusiastically as an important & artistic film. Because, my friends, that’s what we’ve got here. Amazing Grace is all of that and more. Most importantly: It’s a real movie.
Not some greeting-card sappy feel-good Bible cartoon. A real movie that real people are seeing & reviewing. & it’s a movie you need to see. Go and see it! Now! Don’t even stop to read the rest of this review! Go & see it first, then come back & leave your comments here. This is still the first weekend it’s available in many theatres, & the box office results from this weekend will say a lot to the powers that be about how many more theatres will get it & whether “we” are watching & whether “we” have enough buying power to warrant the production of valuable cinema. Or whether slop & trash & smash will make the big bucks. This is an important film about a great guy, & it does an excellent job of embodying him in his everyday life, in his brilliant Parliamentarian career, & in his historical context. Britain comes to life, as does the multi-faceted question of the abolition of slaves. It doesn’t shy away from the economic complexities that made Wilberforce’s opponents more than straw men. It puts the entire question squarely into the Revolutionary atmosphere of the day, with its fears & its heady freedoms.
It’s not a perfect movie. Although I can’t for the life of me figure out why not. At first I thought it was because the audience never actually comes face-to-face with slavery. All the accounts are second-hand. But then again, that’s how it was for Wilberforce. He never saw the beatings, the starvation, the degradation. He heard about them, he saw the empty ships—& that was enough to move him to action! So that’s not it. I thought maybe it wasn’t a big enough budget—but I don’t see any cut corners. There’s a string quartet playing Hayden, the evolution of wig styles over two decades, crowds in London streets, infuriating debates in a packed Parliament; I don’t feel anything is missing.
So maybe it’s a perfect movie after all. It’s certainly a movie I will watch again, & show my students, & recommend to my friends, & try to incorporate into my life as new passion. Passion for the integration of public & private life, passion for the unity of faith & action, passion for quality of both art & message. Hooray!
Official Movie Site
Articles in World Magazine
Interview with the director