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Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce

Dr Alex Tang

 

 

By the late 18th Century, over eleven million African men, women and children had been taken from Africa to be used as slaves in the West Indies and the American colonies. Great Britain was the mightiest superpower on earth and its empire was build on the backs of slaves. The slave trade was considered acceptable by all but a few. Of these, even fewer were brave enough to speak out against it.

With these few powerful statements began the movie, Amazing Grace (2007). This movie is a dramatic chronicles of William Wilberforce's 20 years struggle for the abolition of slavery in the British Parliament. Though it is a film about Wilberforce's faith in God, it does not come across as preachy or dull. In fact, I find it an emotional and spiritual experience as I watch the story unfolds. I would place this movie on par with Chariots of Fire which is also a Christian theme movie that I love.
 
The movies tells of the friendship between William Wilberforce and William Pitt (who will later become Prime Minister). It starts with Wilberforce in his garden realising that he was found by God. He then wonder whether he now serve God or be a political activist. "Be both," said one of his dinner guests. In his search for his calling, he visited John Newton (Albert Finney), a former slaver who turned to the Church to become a monk seeking redemption. Apparently John Newton taught William when he was a boy and also taught him the song, "Amazing Grace." Newton was struggling with his 20,000 ghosts, slaves that he have killed. However he did encourage Wilberforce to set forth in his crusade- one person against 300 MPs in the House of Parliament.
 
The movie started at the time after 15 years of Wilberforce's fight to pass a bill abolishing slavery. Every year, he proposed the bill and lost. At the start of the movie, Wilberforce was a broken man, having lost his youth and health to his crusade. He was also an opium addict. William Wilberforce had two main objectives, (1) to abolish slavery, and (2) to reform society. In reforming society he had improved working conditions in factories, education, and community work. But in his first objective he had failed.
 
He met Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai) who inspired him to continue his fight and whom he married. With renewed energy he outwitted the opposition (will not give away the how) and began the slow road to victory. In the movie, the bill for the abolition of slavery was passed with Wilberforce in the Parliament while in history, he heard about it on his dead bed. The movie unfolds at a steady rate without being too slow to be a drag or too forced and artificial as in many Christian movies.
 
Wilberforce's Christian faith is evident throughout without it being mentioned repeatedly. Ioan Gruffudd gave a convincing performance as Wilberforce; a crusader who was obsessed by his crusade that all but destroyed him but was saved by a woman's love. It also show the teamwork and support by an itinerant preacher, a former slave Oloudaqh Equiano (Youssou N'Dour), activist Thomas Clarkson, and a seasoned politician Lord Charles Fox (Michael Gambon).
 
 This is a must see for the whole family. The closing segment with the whole Scottish pipe band playing Amazing Grace is a truly magical experience.
 
 
 
 
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