Film review – Amazing Grace
By Laura L. Klure
Special to the Black Voice
"Amazing Grace" is not only a well-known and much beloved
song -- it is now the title of an inspiring movie. The new film tells the story of William
Wilberforce, who led the fight to abolish slavery in the British
Many Americans are not familiar with this facet of history,
and the 200th Anniversary of the ending of the British slave trade is a good
time to correct the oversight. The
movie, starring Ioan Gruffudd and a skilled group of other British actors, is a
very palatable history lesson. It took
20 years of persistent campaigning by Wilberforce and others, but England ended slavery about half a century
before the United States
The lyrics to the "Amazing Grace" hymn were written by
pastor John Newton (played by virtuoso actor Albert Finney), who was a mentor
of Wilberforce. Newton had captained a slave ship before
becoming a minister, and the horrors of that experience haunted him until his
Wilberforce was born in 1759. As a member of the House of Commons,
Wilberforce strived to make members of Parliament and the English people face
the reality of the evils of slavery. He
accomplished this without much first-hand experience, since although slavery
was common in the colonies, there were not many Black slaves in the British Isles.
Wilberforce spent some time in a coffin-like wood box, to try to
understand how slaves felt in the extremely cramped conditions on slave ships.
There are few Black characters in the film, and few
depictions of the actual conditions of slavery, but this is appropriate to the
story. The former African slave Olaudah
Equiano, also called Gustavus Vassa, wrote his own very popular autobiography,
which had a pivotal role in convincing the English that slavery was wrong. Equiano is powerfully played by Youssou
N'Dour, who gives the film some of its most poignant moments.
The underlying message of this excellent movie is that we
must do what is morally right, regardless of whether it is profitable or in
vogue. In addition to combating slavery,
Wilberforce also worked to make the world better in other ways. He is credited with starting the Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), and he championed improved conditions
for hospitals and prisons.
A college named after Wilberforce is in the U.S., rather
than in his home country. This year is
the 150th Anniversary of Wilberforce University in Ohio, the alma mater of Regina Brown Wilson
and Hardy Brown II. Hardy II works at Wilberforce U., and the choir there was involved in
some of the soundtrack music.
The film's official website, www.amazinggracemovie.com, is
well worth visiting. There are links to
film clips, study guides, and other educational materials. There is an ongoing campaign to eliminate the
types of slavery that do still exist in our world.
Some may come away from the film not only educated about
history, but also inspired to do whatever they can to help solve the problems
This film is rated PG, for themes involving slavery and some
mild language. There are also scenes of
drug use and one depicting cruelty to animals, which all adds up to creating a
movie where parental explanations are beneficial.