To coincide with England’s 200th year anniversary of the end of the slave trade, Amazing Grace is a stirring drama about abolitionist William Wilberforce. Devoted Christian, animal rights activist, and incredibly youthful Member of Parliament in his 20s, Wilberforce sacrificed a large portion of his life and his health to end the highly profitable trade of African slaves to English owned plantations.
Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four, King Arthur, TV’s Hornblower) delivers an outstanding central performance. The humility, sincerity and charisma that Gruffudd gives to Wilberforce results in a fitting tribute to a man who deserves far more recognition for his contribution to civilisation. While the rest of the cast of English parliamentarians, renegade clergymen, friends and sympathisers are also excellent, Albert Finney particularly stands out as ex-slave owner John Newton who wrote the song about redemption that the film took its title from.
Michael Apted (Enigma, the 7 Up series) directs with a mannered restraint that is often absent from historical cinema. Far from being a costume drama romp, Amazing Grace is a modern film that explores the uphill battle that campaigners for social justice face when confronted by opportunistic and defensive economic rationalism.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 284, 2007