We've all heard the hymn "Amazing Grace." We've heard it in church, or at a Military Tattoo at the Edinburgh Festival or perhaps from Judy Collins (a recording that stayed on the singles charts for an amazing 67 weeks back in 1970-1972).
Many of us have heard of John Newton, the former slave-trade ship captain who became a Christian minister and wrote the hymn.
But this new movie, Amazing Grace, gives us an insight into how the second half of the 18th century produced a ripple of outrage over the slave trade that, in a span of some 50 years, rose to an overwhelming wave of social disgust over slavery itself, at least in Britain. The movie accomplishes this by telling the story of William Wilberforce, a rising star in British politics who became fixated on the subject of abolishing the slave trade and who refused to be worn down by defeat after defeat in the British Parliament.
Slavery did not end with the vote of the British Parliament depicted at the end of this wonderful historical re-creation movie. Only the slave trade was abolished. It took until 1833 for slavery itself to be abolished, a bill that passed the parliament several weeks after Wilberforce died. Before his death he was given notice that the bill had been approved for a third reading by the parliament, virtually assuring its passage. Wilberforce died with the satisfaction of knowing that his life's goal had been achieved, at least in law.
Unfortunately, slavery continues to be practiced today, especially in Africa and Asia. History can be changed by articulate, persuasive, gifted respected and imperfect men and women such as Wilberforce, Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In this movie it was a nice bonus to experience Wilberforce's eccentric quirkiness (his love of animals leading to his founding the RSPCA), his personal friendship with William Pitt the Younger (still the youngest Prime Minister in British history), the influence of John Newton (who was a very popular pastor of a large congregation and a well-respected preacher as well as the writer of the hymn) and the interplay of world historical events (the American and French revolutions and their aftermaths).The dirty, smoggy, crowded, and smelly depiction of 18th century London helps to explain why men and women of means chose to spend as much time as possible in their country estates.
The close-cropped hair of men (and, less displayed, of women) and the wearing of wigs (due to the infestations of lice, etc) is part of the down-to-earth reality of the times that lifts this movie out of the mere ordinary to the level of worth seeing