Amazing Grace is one of those films that, when you first hear about it you wonder if it’ll do its subject matter any justice but, once you’ve seen it…well, what can you say?
The film recreates the Britain of William Wilberforce in a very vivid and real way. From the opening scenes of a damp, wet, day travelling to Bath, through to the House of Commons pre-WWII bomb damage, from the setting of John Newton’s church within the crowded streets of London, to the recreation of the East-India dock in the east end. Not only is the physical backdrop set wonderfully, but also the political, with mentions of George III’s mental issues, the independence of the United States and the rise of revolution in France.
Taking the stage amongst this backdrop is an abominable trade in men and women which was taking place not only in the British Empire, but across the whole world. Whilst the British were highly significant in the transatlantic slave trade, this was more because they were the super-power of the day. Every power up to the day, major and minor, engaged in this trade.
Yet, a small group of men and women, driven by their evangelical Christian faith sought to abolish the trade within the British Empire. With Wilberforce as their leader and their voice in parliament, they tirelessly sought to change the way the Empire traded. Whether they knew it or not, in changing the attitudes of the super-power of the day, they would slowly change the whole world’s attitude to slavery.
With such a great story, the film’s only mission was to keep it compelling and real. With a slew of British actors, the main characters of the story came to life. William Pitt, Charles Fox, Thomas Clarkson, Oloudaqh Equiano, John Newton, amongst many others, as well as William and Barbara Wilberforce, were wonderfully presented, and one had a glimpse of their lives and what they went through, and ultimately what they achieved.
The only minor quibble I have with the film is the way Wilberforce’s conversion was portayed. Gone was the long trip around Europe, instead replaced with a slightly briefer and quirkier spell in the garden. I guess the problem is that the film has to compress such a remarkable life in such a short time. That said, Wilberforce’s faith shone throughout the whole film, showing how God can use even a politician for his glory. Even though Wilberforce himself had trouble reconciling serving God with politics, eventually, he was persuaded that he might be able to do both without compromising his faith. Far from separating religion and politics, Wilberforce combined the two, eventually changing the world for the better. Maybe not perfect, but certainly better.
A superb film, well worth watching, telling an even greater story of a man serving the God whom he loved and obeyed.