Amazing Grace Movie Review
Amazing Grace follows the political life of William Wilberforce who fought, and succeeded, in ending the slave trade in the British Empire. Wilberforce worked through years of opposition during the late 18th and early 19th centuries to try and get the British Parliament to vote to end the slave trade. The film also tells the story of John Newton, an Anglican clergyman, and the writing of his famous hymn, Amazing Grace. During the nearly 20 years Wilberforce campaigns, his health suffers and he gets married. However, he remains dedicated to his work. He must convince the British Parliament of the evils of slavery, thought by some to be just rumors. His efforts are ultimately successful, and lead to the end of the British slave trade in 1807.
Amazing Grace tells the story of the banning of the slave trade from a British political perspective. Although we did not talk much about the British banning of the slave trade, with the exception that it scarred pro-slavery Southerners, the political process of banning slavery was similar in both the British Empire and the United States.
The main obstacle faced by abolitionists were the politicians who benefited economically by slavery. In defense of the institution which made them quite wealthy, they made up many excuses. For example, in Amazing Grace, a member of parliament states that, "there is no documentation that Africans had any objections to slavery". This is similar to when James Henry Hammond said that slavery had produced the "highest toned, the purest, best organization of society that had ever existed on the face of the earth" (Out of Many 319).
Bruce Westbrook of the Houston Chronicle gave Amazing Grace 2.5 stars out of 5 in his review of the movie on February 23rd, 2007. His main objections with the film center around the fact that the film is mostly about one man, born to the privileged class, with a house full of servants, talking about the horrors of slavery. As Westbrook points out, "the drama suffers from the same thing that made its heroes' fight so difficult: No slaves are in sight". The politicians only talk about slavery and try to gather evidence to show that it was horrible. Although, Equiano, a former slave provides witness to Wilberforce's cause, and the movie contains several dreams regarding slavery, slavery itself is not well represented in this film.
Westbrook believes that the true hero of Amazing Grace is the former slave-ship captain turned minister, John Newton. He is said in the film to have written the hymn Amazing Grace and said the famous quote, "I was blind, but now I can see".
Susan Walker for the Toronto Star states that the film is "pretty – even overly – faithful to history". Although I did not know much about the British fight to end slavery, the pro-slavery arguments are similar to the ones we studied in class. Thus I believe that the movie is faithful to history.
This film taught me a lot about the life of a member of Parliament trying to end slavery. Before Wilberforce could get other members of Parliament to vote against slavery, he had to show them that slavery was quite painful and inhumane. His does a pretty good job explaining it; the movie limits actual visual accounts of slavery to a few small dream sequences. Perhaps today, audiences have heard the accounts of plantation life, thus the director chose not to include them. In addition, the director may have been trying to mirror the knowledge of the members of Parliament at the time, which was an obstacle Wilberforce had to overcome.
I enjoyed the film; however I would to agree with the reviewer from the Chronicle that it contained mostly talking. Film is a visual medium which is a good opportunity to show the horrors of slavery. On the other hand, the lack of imagery mirrors the situation in Parliament, which, at the time, had little proof of what really happened to an enslaved person. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see the life of an abolitionist fight against other politicians who are blind to the truth.
In addition, we often only here about slavery in America, it was refreshing to hear about something different.
I would only recommend this film to those interested in the history of the British Empire or slavery. For those who have little interest in history, I would only recommend this film as a sleep aid.
- Amazing Grace. Dir. Michael Apted. Perf. Ioan Gruffudd, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell. Samuel Goldwyn Films, 2006.
- Faragher, John Mack, et al. Out of Many: a history of the American people. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2002.
- Walker, Susan. "'Amazing Grace': Slave labour". Toronto Star. 23 Mar 2007. 3 Dec 2007 <http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/article/195212>.
- Westbrook, Bruce. "A good-hearted look at the song, fight against slavery". Houston Chronicle. 23 Feb 2007. 3 Dec 2007 <http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ent/movies/reviews/4530049.html>.