Reviewed by: Rev. Bryan Griem
What are the consequences of racial prejudice and false beliefs about the origin of races? Answer
Should Christians seek political power or should we only focus on evangelism? Answer
Were all of America’s Founding Fathers racists, pro-slavery, and hypocrites? Answer
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Samuel Goldwyn Films
“Behind the song you love is a story you will never forget.”
Telling people that I just saw a movie about William Wilberforce has drawn more quizzical looks than I would have expected, and it is for this reason that, periodically, we owe Hollywood a debt of gratitude for making historic pictures such as “Amazing Grace.” Having to explain this bit of abolition history to people has given rise to my own interest in learning more about the story, and I think it may lead others similarly. Suffice to say, history is not boring when well told, and I don’t think audiences will think this movie to be boring either. My eleven year old son, who was enamored by the fact that the main character, Ioan Gruffudd, was also one of the “Fantastic Four” superheroes in the movie by that name, was not bored, and actually enjoyed the film very much. He has been studying the subject of slavery in school, and this movie has given him food for thought, and both of us fare for spiritual discussion.
The movie begins at the then current time in Wilberforce’s life, when he is older and ill, and then flashes back to the beginning of his career in Parliament. Wilberforce perpetually presents bills to eliminate the African slave trade, only to have them repeatedly voted down by his colleagues. One colleague favorable to him is to eventually become Prime Minister, and so the two work together, drip by drip, to finally realize their noble objective.
There is an interesting intersection of history and faith at work in this movie, as the slave trader-turned-clergyman, John Newton (played by Albert Finney), makes an appearance. Newton wrote the renowned hymn for which the movie is named, and the song is sung or played several times throughout the story. He utters good and laudable things like, “I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great savior!” He often gives spiritual advice to the young Wilberforce, including the part about God working for change by drips rather than storms. As well, the pastor contributes to the decision of Wilberforce to continue in politics for God, rather than to leave politics for God.
“Amazing Grace” offers many things for the person of faith to consider, and gives a strong message to those outside. This is a film about struggle in life; about staying the course, fighting the good fight, and being salt AND light in a fallen world.
The visual appeal of the movie fills in where mere story leaves off, and it is quite something to see imagined, the greatest power on Earth, over two centuries ago, during the time between the American Revolution and the end of the French one. There are no graphic and gory scenes of tortured victims in this movie, like one might have seen in “Schindler’s List,” or “Amistad” (another movie on slavery). Instead, there are dreamlike allusions to workers near fiery sugar cane furnaces, and visual aids are presented to explain what occurred. This was a surprise, yet all the points were made and not in the least lacking as a result of absent graphics.
Kudos to the producers who put forth this movie of strong Christian activism! It is not a movie espousing limp-wristed, “be warm and fed” Christianity; it is the kind that acts upon its beliefs. Several clergymen, invited by Wilberforce’s friend, William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch), pay a visit to the famed statesman, only to add their own convictions that he should not choose between God and country, but that his newfound faith is what should move him all the more toward creating a better world under God.
One of the producers of this film is actress Patricia Heaton, better known for her role on the “Everybody Loves Raymond” sitcom. She is an ardent Christian activist and strong prolife supporter, and the contemporary abortion issue is not unlike the abolition issue of Wilberforce’s era. Wilberforce gave his life to end the hideous and deadly trafficking of human beings in his time. It was his Christian convictions that drove him on, and despite politics, and all the excuses given by representatives of the slave business, he continued to stand for what was good in the sight of God. Wilberforce is thus remembered well, and his work changed the world. Should any in our day begin to weary in the task of ending the abortion trade, they would do well to observe a life of one who didn’t give up when things got hard. Something of worth is worth working for, and right IS might.
There is much good in this film, and I would personally recommend it to any who would ask. Depicted are scenes of money being given to the poor and food being served to the hungry. Fear engulfs the unsaved on their deathbeds, and gratuitous sex and violence are nowhere to be found. “All men are created equal” is declared, and marriage is upheld.
What may be found objectionable in this film is minor, and perhaps even absent in the minds of some Christian communities, but there are a handful of items, some of which are language matters, that should be noted. Wilberforce sits on dewy grass, then announces that his posterior (referred to by a three letter synonym) is wet. The same word is used when the abolitionist opponents were scolded to get theirs moving back into the chamber for a vote. The word “bloody” is used, and this will probably not disturb American ears. The British and Australians, however, seem to be uncertain as to whether this is a legitimate expletive or just an adjective that lends force to a following noun. It is arguably a crudity more than anything. A couple of times, there is a reference to the more profane term for Hades, but even then it seems light, or even warranted. “God” is also uttered a time without specific reference to Him, so there again, an inappropriate and somewhat offensive use.
Because the movie is set in a specific time with its peculiar manners and attire, the fashion of the day for women displayed a busty bit of cleavage. There is nothing especially lewd or overmuch here, only notable and likely to be marked by some who would consider this immodest by their understanding of biblical standards. Similarly, characters drink alcohol, although there is no drunkenness of which to speak. Christians will line up on both sides of this issue, to be sure. The same might be said for the parliamentary pastime of playing cards. One such incident included gambling, and provided a fairly intense moment in the movie when the King’s son, the Duke of Clarence (Toby Jones), ran out of pocket change and bet his slave. Wilberforce immediately forfeited the game and left the table. The Duke referred to his slave using the n-word.
A particular form of opium is prescribed for Wilberforce by his doctor, so it would be a stretch to lump this in with illegitimate drug use, but I mention it in case someone cannot, for whatever reason, countenance the use of medicines. In addition, there are a few background scenes of men smoking pipes.
Viewers of this movie, especially Christians, will walk away richer for the experience. Our sin brings so many evils into the world, but when one who serves Christ stands firm, the tide can turn; it has, and it will, and William Wilberforce is a fine example. People who like history in general, will enjoy the retelling of this monumental moment of fairly recent times, and critics will not find too much to complain about. See the film.
Violence: Minor / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: None
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.