Period biopic based on the real life of British slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce. Director Michael Apted pays tribute, on the advent of the bicentennial of the abolition of slavery, with a loving biography of the man who, almost single-handedly, made it happen. Wilberforce's is a story of Herculean courage and absolute dedication to compassion - the noblest cause. The film follows Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) as a young parliamentarian in the late 1700's with socialist ideals that sit poorly with the generally older crowd in government. He does, however, make one very important and lifelong friend in parliament - future Prime Minister William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch). Disgusted by what he sees around him in the homes of the privileged - African slaves treated as less than human - Wilbeforce grows to be a strong proponent of ending the trade entirely. He also takes counsel in an elderly clergyman, John Newton (Albert Finney) - writer of the eponymous hymn - who advises him to stick to his guns and abolish this vile business once and for all.
In this inspirational costume drama, Michael Apted (49 Up
) recounts a important period in British history. Unsurprisingly, however, his eye-opening biography of 18th century abolitionist William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) is likely to come as a revelation to many Britons. After all, despite the presence of his wife, Barbara (Romola Garai), this isn't a particularly "sexy" story, but it is
a powerful one. The title comes from John Newton's hymn "Amazing Grace" ("I once was lost but now am found"). Newton (Albert Finney) was a former slaveholder, who became a clergyman and spent his days repenting. While America had John Brown, England had Wilberforce, and Newton is one of many who helped the MP to abolish slavery in the UK. The story begins towards the end of Wilberforce's mission when he's sick with colitis and addicted to laudanum. Apted continues to alternate between 1797 and 1789, when Wilberforce was fitter and more idealistic, and ends in 1807 as his efforts come to fruition.
Apted and writer Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things) do right by their hero. Unlike Amistad, however, slaves are largely off-screen, with the exception of author Equiano (Senegalese vocalist Youssou N'Dour). Amazing Grace reserves its focus for the politicians who risked their reps for the greater good, like Wilberforce and Prime Minister Pitt (an excellent Benedict Cumberbatch), and those more concerned with the income slavery provided their constituents, like Lord Tarleton (Ciarán Hinds) and the Duke of Clarence (Toby Jones). --Kathleen C. Fennessy