Amazing Grace (7/10)
by Tony Medley
Although too long and too
slow, this is a well-done biopic of William Wilburforce (Ioan Gruffudd),
born in 1859, who was a Cambridge classmate and buddy of William Pitt
the Younger (Benedict Cumberbatch), who a few years after graduation
became England’s youngest Prime Minister, serving 1781-1801 and 1804
until his death in 1806.
was to the manor born, but, instead of opting for the easy life, became
a Member of Parliament when he was but 21 years-of-age, and devoted two
decades to ending the British slave trade.
gives a valiant effort in trying to capture Wilburforce as a pious,
dedicated revolutionary. He is greatly aided, fortunately, by strong
performances by Albert Finney as John Newton, a reformed slave ship
owner, and Michael Gamdon as Lord Charles Fox, both of whom were
stalwart supporters of Wilburforce’s efforts.
The other side is led by Lord
Tarleton (Ciarán Hinds, in a good performance) and The Duke of Clarence
(Toby Jones), one of the sons of King George III (and the brother of
Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, who was the father of Queen Victoria),
who mostly just sits around and agrees with Tarleton, looking and acting
a lot like Truman Capote. As in the United States, Tarleton and the Duke
of Kent argued that abolition of the slave trade would be dynamite to
the English economy. Wilburforce’s argument was about the immorality of
the slave trade and what it did to people who were human beings. There
is a startling analogy here to the arguments today about abortion.
The film is marred by a
sloppy script (Steven Knight), which has all of the characters
apparently completely oblivious of the English language. Throughout,
these highly educated people show total ignorance that a pronoun used as
the object of a preposition must be in the objective case, not the
nominative. Phrases like, “by who” abound. With these people butchering
the King’s by making these constant grammatical mistakes English with
their oh, so proper British accents, is like fingernails scratching
across a blackboard.
The film is further marred by
Director Michael Apted’s lack of pace. This is a story of a man on a
journey that at first seems quixotic. But he perseveres, with the help
and support of Newton, Fox, Thomas Clarkson (Rufus Sewell, in a
disappointing turn), Oloudaqh Equiano (Yassou N’Dour), a freed slave,
and his wife of Wilburforce’s same mind, Barbara Spooner Wilberforce (Romola
Garai). But Apted tells it in 111 minutes, which is at least 20 minutes
too long. A good film editor could have made this into an entertaining,
tight 90 minute film, without losing any of the story or suspense.
As it is, it’s still an
entertaining film, one of which we need more, that tells a good story
with first-rate acting, and is informative as well. I enjoyed it,
although I did look at my watch more often than I would have liked.
February 24, 2007