Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Albert Finney, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Gambon, Romola Garai
Director: Michael Apted
SUNY Purchase '05
"I don't compromise my values and I don't compromise my work. I won't give in." -Michael Moore
Review By: Rocco Passafuime
It's almost impossible to fathom a world in which a segment of humanity was mistreated at all specifically due to their race, much less actually considered common practice. But it did and it was during a time more than any other where going against the grain of the populace could have not been anymore crucial in the pursuit of a noble right.
The earliest seeds planted in the long journey towards the complete abolition of slavery, took place in Britain around the same time of the U.S.'s infancy. This story is now told in Amazing Grace, now available on DVD.
A devout Christian, 21 year-old William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) chooses to answer his calling to God as a Parliamentary MP at the House Of Commons. He was encouraged this road by fellow politician William Pitt "The Younger"Â (Benedict Cumberbatch) and slave ship captain-turned-minister John Newton (Albert Finney), the writer of the Christian hymn “Amazing Grace.”
However, Pitt The Younger is soon elected Prime Minister and Wilber solely takes up a cause to pass laws to abolish slavery in England, believing it is against the Christian way. Soon supporting his cause is abolitionist Thomas Clarkson (Rufus Sewell) and former-slave-turned activist Oloudah Equiano (Youssou N’Dour).
However, Lord Tarleton (Ciaran Hinds), the Duke of Clarence (Toby Jones), and much of Parliament deeply opposes the legislation, believing it's an economic necessity, and it's soon shot down. 13 years later, an ailing Wilber retires from politics and retreats to the home of friends Henry and Marianne Thornton (Nicholas Farrell, Sylvestra Le Touzel).
There, he meets Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai), who falls in love with Wilbur. She encourages him not to give up hope and soon, the two of them attempt once again to lead the fight against slavery in England.
Amazing Grace is a fairly interesting period drama that tells a perspective on slavery rarely seen on film. The story comes out a bit too simplistic and idealistic and lacks the substance of slavery dramas like Amistad or the classic TV miniseries Roots. However, the film's strengthened by a great cast, who bring plenty of much-needed heart and conviction into the characters.
The DVD's picture quality is in the 1:85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, with the sound quality in Dolby Digital Surround 5.1. The DVD also comes packed with plenty of special features.
The first is audio commentary by director Michael Apted and actor Ioan Gruffudd, who both deliver informative recollections. The second special feature is a fairly lengthy featurette titled "How Sweet The Sound: The Story Of 'Amazing Grace'"Â, which features behind-the-scenes footage and plenty of good interviews with the cast and crew.
The third feature is a brief and more educational featurette titled "Finding Freedom"Â, which explores the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, OH. Next is a fairly good music video of the hymn "Amazing Grace"Â, performed by
Another special feature is eight selected clips from the film used to discuss it in classrooms, many of them pertaining to the more idealistic aspects of the story. Rounding out the special features is an interactive study guide also used to discuss the film in classrooms, which is accessible on DVD-ROM.
Overall, this film, from the way it's clearly packaged and promoted, seemed to be created with the intent of being a rather misplaced allegory of the continuing debate over the war in Iraq, supporting the argument of why "it's our sacred duty to 'liberate' tyrannical countries no matter what"Â. However, Amazing Grace, whatever the motive for its creation, is still a great period drama strengthened by a solid, impassioned cast.
Movie Grade: B-
DVD Features Grade: B
Overall Grade: B