Saturday, February 24, 2007

"Amazing Grace" was an amazing story

Two hundred years ago this weekend, the slave trade was abolished in the British Empire. The story of how that happened, however, is largely forgotten. The new movie, Amazing Grace, tells the true story of how it took the tireless efforts of William Wilberforce, who was inspired by his faith and his boyhood pastor John Newton, former slave trader himself and author of the hymn, "Amazing Grace."
My wife Mary and I went with our friends Chris and Janna Dyals to see it today. The first two showings were sold out, so we had to go to the later showing, and that theater was packed, although the theater was one of the smaller theaters at the Wynnsong 11 Cinema in Savannah.
Chris was impressed by the quality of the production. Mary was moved by Wilberforce's determination to keep trying and not give up. I noticed how they brought out the Christian faith of Newton and Wilberforce, yet it is not so "in your face" as to turn off the non-religious movie viewer. I also found it fascinating how they connected the history of the time to the story, including the American Revolution and the French Revolution.
The movie is rated PG for scenes of slavery and some mild language.
Here's how I would grade the movie:
Storyline/plot: B+
It is difficult to retell a story when the ending is already known going in. But although I knew Wilberforce led the crusade to end the slave trade, the story of how he almost gave up, how he was inspired to continue and how a little political trickery helped get it done was all new to me. The movie tells the story well, bringing out the highs and lows of the effort, and using some moving back and forth in time. For many people who are not familiar with the story, the involvement of John Newton, author of "Amazing Grace," is also very inspiring part of the story. I think the story could have been stronger if they had shown more scenes of the suffering endured by the African slaves. They showed white people discussing how the slaves suffered, and they showed one African who revealed his scars and showed Wilberforce around an empty slave ship. I think the movie could have been more forceful by showing Newton's younger days as a slave trader and showing the suffering of the slaves on the voyage. That possibly would have made it a PG-13 movie, but I think it would have strengthened the story.
Acting: A+
There are no famous actors in this movie, but all of the acting is excellent. The actors are all British, and speak comfortably in 18th century English. Ioan Gruffudd plays William Wilberforce with a passion, and Benedict Cumberbatch is equally real and believable as Prime Minister William Pitt, Wilberforce's friend. Albert Finney as John Newton nearly stole the show with the scene where he shares his confessions with Wilberforce. Romola Garai was captivating as the beautiful Barbara Spooner, Wilberforce's wife. The rest of the supporting cast, from the abolitionists and members of parliament down to the butler and cooks in Wilberforce's household, made the entire story come alive.
Costumes/scenery: A+
Chris commented after the movie that they must have spent a lot of money on it, and I agreed. The old ships, scenes in London, costumes of actors wearing powdered wigs, and details such as food and candles took the viewer back in time. For example, in one scene as Wilberforce and Barbara Spooner talk late into the night, the way that he replaces the candles as he is talking looked so natural as if it was a common practice in the 18th century that he had done many times before.
Musical score: A
How can I give a low musical score to a movie featuring the greatest hymn ever written? The way they use the words to the song at key times is effective, without being overdone. If you go see the movie, don't leave when they begin to show the credits for the lead actors, or you will miss a moving bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace" done in the square in front of Westminister Abbey.

1 comment:

Bryan said...

My wife and I saw the movie Friday night. We agree with you: it's very well done. I agree with one reviewer who said it's one of the best displays of Christians in a movie in a very long time