Amazing Grace Review: A Redeeming Picture, With Mild Shortcomings
by David Hartwell
February 24, 2007
This year marks the 200th Anniversary of the British Parliament passing the act to abolish the slave trade. In response and memoriam of a deplorable past, many have found comfort and fellowship by singing the most famous hymn of the era - Amazing Grace by John Newton. The film by the same name doesn't speak as loudly as the traditional song, but the tune it carries still has the melody of inspiration and heart. Amazing Grace, from well-established director Michael Apted, provides an entertainingly biopic look at a man and era that is unfortunately forgotten.
William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) struggles with two seemingly separated things - his faith and his politics. What does he do? The eighteenth century MP has the human principles and the voice to do great things, but what great things can he do? When he meets with a group of abolitionists, he finds his cause. He's found his answer to his personal debate between theology and politics, and that answer is both. Now William Wilberforce is a full-fledged abolitionist. Through several years of parliamentary proceedings filled with anger and dispute leading to failure, Wilberforce is losing his cause as well as his health. Told partially through flashback, with the narrative eventually catching up to Wilberforce's portrayal, we finally see the struggled man achieve his goal and see the "amazing grace that saved a wretch like me."
The storytelling of the movie outweighs the general quality of picture. Is it moving? Yes. Is it memorable? Mostly. Is it flawless narrative? Of course not. As read in other reviews, the film will most likely find its way into the libraries of most lazy social studies teachers. I couldn't agree more. It has the Gettysburg style, where it's entertaining enough to keep you interested for the full length and historic enough to where you may just learn something. Getting past the style and picture, its most redeeming quality (call it grace) is the message. I was happy that the film took an approach of "let's tell a story that tends to get missed, that honors a noble man, is somewhat historic, and will get people to understand that differences can be made through perseverance" instead of the simpler approach, "slavery is bad."
The weak points may be the film's lack of subtlety and realism. The opening scene depicts the aging, weakened Wilberforce witness the beating of a horse too exhausted to draw a carriage. Wilberforce gets out of his own carriage and explains to the men that beating it wont get the horse to do it's work. Is it a coincidence that this beaten horse was all black? I'd like to think not, mostly because this scene sets up the theme of the picture. Subtlety isn't the method used in this film. The realism dilemma mostly comes from the character portrayals. We have the flawless (except a mild opiate addiction) William Wilberforce set against evil self-agenda ridden members of parliament who seem overly characterized. Not to sound hypocritical, however I don't exactly consider it a bad thing to set good vs. evil in such an obvious manner as long as the story is in the right place, which in the case of Amazing Grace, it is.
I wouldn't expect this film top any award slots, nor to impress the entirety of the movie going public. Based on the crowd at my showing, the films target markets are the senior citizens and families. However, don't feel shy about wanting to see a film that isn't Reno 911!: Miami or The Number 23 this weekend, because from time to time we need something mildly redeeming and inspirational. As John Newton (who makes an appearance in the film by actor Albert Finney) once wrote: "’twas grace that taught my heart to fear. And grace, my fears relieved." This couldn't apply more to William Wilberforce. Leave a comment if you have opinions on the movie or this review.
Reader Feedback - 7 Comments
So the whole time you were thinking...Mr. Fantastic right?
FSJosh on Feb 25, 2007
Nope.....Horatio Hornblower. Both roles seem perfect for Ioan Gruffudd. Only wish more people had seen/heard of this movie.
Fbrown on Jan 15, 2011
My biggest criticism, although a minor one, of the film was the flashback storytelling style. It wasn't the easiest to keep clear where you were in the story. It is entertaining, especially the scenes that take place in Parliament. I agree, you shouldn't be "shy" in wanting to go see an uplifting movie about a great historical figure.
Jason of New Movie Friday on Mar 4, 2007
Excellent Movie but nobody will realize it due to bad marketing. The ads on TV are useless and no one I talked to seem to realize that this movie was NOT about the "guy who wrote the song" but about freeing the Slaves. The former being the answer I got when I ask people what they think the movie is about. When they realize this is a movie about freeing the slaves most people are suddenly interested in seeing it. How sad that Walden Media who created such a moving work of art hired marketeers with absolutely no marketing experience. This could have been a movie as big as Schindler's List or Malcom X. History Teachers would have taken their kids to see it. All the Hollywood elite would have found it neccessary to praise it lest they be considered racists. Even the Acadamy would have been forced to consider it for some sort of an nomination for an Oscar. All Walden Media had to do was add a tag line like: The First Fight to Free the slaves. If anyone knows how to get hold of Micheal Flaherty...please pass this on. It's not too late yet.
Neil Mammen on Mar 11, 2007
Just saw it. Very good movie! I'll be seeing it again, and will probably buy the DVD. But I agree with Neil on this. The marketing was obviously terrible. I didn't even know it existed until a friend invited me. It's really a shame that this movie will end up on the scrap heap of "wanna-be"s and "also-ran"s. It deserved better. Movies today are about promotion and timing. The promotion was terrible and the social timing was off. America has no great causes other than "bring the boys home" these days. And with the systemic prejudice against blacks still very palpable, not to mention the current distaste for any evangelical, this movie probably doesn't have a hope on North American soil. As Prime Minister Pitt would have said, "Bloody shame!"
Al on Mar 21, 2007
About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole - four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months - I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist  on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away - but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my 'psychological prison.' I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He's a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 - 17]. Peace Be With You Micky
micky on Apr 8, 2007
I watched "Amazing Grace" for a Modern History Assignment........I am not a Christian and never will be....but I believe the film highlights the true force of determination. I believe our society is destined to have following generations that lack the capacity to believe they can truly make a difference....we sit back whilst the War in Iraq rages....whilst millions are slaughtered in Darfur and the Congo.....we fail to make a stand against a Government which fails to make decisions that truly reflect the attitudes of their people....If anything the efforts made by Wilberforce, Clarkson. Fox , More and Equiano should restore our faith in Grace and mankind. It should encourage the children of today to continue to believe they have the ability to break the status quo and strive for a better society.....We look at "Amazing Grace" and marvel in disgust at the injustices present in old English society yet we fail to recognise they still occur today......The story of Wilberforce and the aboltionists lives on remebered and preserved in History........what will our generation have to show????? Its time our generation, the next generation, took a stand for what we believe in as Wilberforce did 200yrs ago
Kayla on Sep 23, 2007
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