With perseverance, commitment and faith, accompanied by God's amazing grace, people of passionate convictions can indeed change the world. This theme permeates the film, Amazing Grace. Two hundred years ago in 1807 the first anti-slave trade bill was passed by England's Parliament, ending 400 years of slave trading. A brave force led by one persistent man, upheld by moral integrity, inspiring friends and a driving faith, paved the way for this world-changing, history-shaping milestone. The film celebrates the 200th anniversary of this accomplishment and a Christian hero who fought to end a horrible evil of his time.
• Genre: Drama; Historical/Political/Religious Thriller
• DVD Release: November 13, 2007
• Film Release: February 23, 2007
• Rated: PG
• Distributed by: Walden Media
• Director: Michael Apted
• Cast: Ioan Gruffudd (William Wilberforce), Romola Garai (Barbara Spooner), Albert Finney (John Newton), Benedict Cumberbatch (William Pitt), Michael Gambon (Lord Charles Fox), Rufus Sewell (Thomas Clarkson), Youssou N’Dour (Olaudah Equiano), Ciaran Hinds (Lord Tarleton)
• Writer: Steven Knight
• Producers: Edward Pressman, Terrence Malick, Patricia Heaton, David Hunt and Ken Wales
The central figure in Amazing Grace is William Wilberforce (1759-1833). He is played by Ioan Gruffudd as the zealous believer in God, human rights activist and British member of Parliament, who battled through discouragement and illness for two decades to end the slave trade in England. In a time of personal crisis, Wilberforce is inspired and encouraged in his long fight to abolish slavery by the former slave ship master, John Newton (Albert Finney), who wrote the beloved hymn "Amazing Grace" following his conversion to Christianity.
What I love about this film is how it celebrates and honors true Evangelical Christian heroes. These "saints," as they were nicknamed, were radical men of strong faith, yet they were not humiliated or portrayed as villainous freaks, as is so often the case in major motion pictures of today.
When Wilberforce rises to sing "Amazing Grace" in a gentleman's club, he makes a bold proclamation: "This is who I am, and this is what I stand for." As he commands the attention of his peers, he commands the respect of viewers. This man is a true Christian, a real human being, doing what is right and what is good.
Viewers are inspired not to quit in the face of failure. As Newton declares to Wilberforce, "God sometimes does his work with a gentle drizzle." Newton is another hero of faith beautifully portrayed in this film. Years after his repentance from involvement in slavery, he is tormented with the feeling of "blood still on my hands." In one scene he admits he is not strong enough to hear his own confession. Years later as an old man, now physically blind, he states, "I once was blind, but now I see," as he finally accepts God's forgiveness for sins of slave trading. I appreciated that the film makers included this admission from Newton, a genuine man of God: "I'm a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior."
The story reveals wealth's power to entice and allure with greed. Viewers vividly encounter the hardened hearts of men allowing them to commit great evil. Wilberforce is a reminder that true Christians are men and women with empathy for their fellow man. He could not dilute what he felt for the suffering slaves. For me the film was disturbingly moving because I could not escape its reality. We, members of humanity, truly committed these crimes. I couldn't help but ponder a question. How are we capable of such moral corruption?
Strangely absent from the film are images of the actual slaves in their horrific plight. Other than seeing them in Wilberforce's nightmares and hearing of their cruel suffering, viewers are hardly exposed to the affliction they endured. This, I feel, was an unfortunate oversight on the part of the film makers.
Sexual Content:There is no nudity in the film. Barbara Spooner, Wilberforce's wife, displays ample cleavage during scenes of their courtship, as was the fashion trend of that period.
Violence:One of the most disturbing scenes is when a fallen horse is cruelly beaten. It gives an early glimpse into Wilberforce's love for nature and animals and his reverence for all life. He helped found the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The violence in Amazing Grace is more often discussed and described than portrayed visually. In a moving scene, an ex-slave shows brutal scars from his branding, remembering the moment his soul no longer belonged to God, but to a man.
Language:Profanity is limited in this film. Viewers will hear a few instances of the words "ni*ger," "h*ll," and "a**."
Drug and Alcohol:
Characters are shown drinking alcohol and gambling in a gentlemen's club. Thomas Clarkson and others occasionally sip whiskey from a flask. In one scene Clarkson becomes intoxicated. Wilberforce is never shown drinking alcohol, however, to treat his painful illness, he takes many doses of laudanum. Eventually he gives up the medicine because he wants to be "fully alive" to raise his children.
The makers of Amazing Grace are using the film to launch an extensive campaign against modern day slavery. You can learn more about the project at the Amazing Change Web site. According to Walden Media, 27 million children and adults are still being exploited around the world in slavery. Viewers are encouraged, like Wilberforce, to be people of passionate compassion and stand up against this injustice.
I would take this a step further and ask readers to consider additional injustices that exist in our world today. According to The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, abortion kills 46 million lives per year in our world. I have no doubt if Wilberforce were alive today, he would have something to say about that.
Just in the United States, the National Coalition for the Homeless estimates 2-3 million people go homeless each year. And in 2001 the United Nations estimated that 150 million children live on the streets worldwide. Amazing Grace showed that extreme bravery is required to speak against evil. May Wilberforce's spirit inspire us all to tap into the amazing grace of God and continue to change the world.
Amazing Grace Faith Visuals
Pastors and church leaders: Are you interested in an interactive way to incorporate the messages of this film into a Bible study or sermon? Faith Visuals presents six free video clips from the film Amazing Grace on topics like courage, grace, and commitment to use as sermon illustrations or for youth and small group discussions. Visit Faith Visuals - Amazing Grace Movie.