“How Sweet the Sound.”
It’s a biopic that doesn’t chart a young genius’ stratospheric rise and meteoric downfall at the hands of drugs! I’m in! Amazing Grace is a fairly interesting film, but it’s yet another case of me already knowing that slavery is wrong: I don’t exactly need Horatio Hornblower to tell me as much.
Despite its lack of mainstream appeal, Amazing Grace has a great cast, to the point that it could have been called “Michael Apted Allstars”. Alas, it was not, but this woeful lack of suitable titling fails to detract from the finished product.
William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) hates slavery. Hates it. He spends a great deal of his youth campaigning for its abolition, with the assistance of the likes of John Newton (Albert Finney), Lord Charles Fox (Michael Gambon) and Thomas Clarkson (Rufus Sewell). Charting many years and psychosomatic illnesses in Wilberforce’s life, the audience can see the hopeless become the hopeful. I’m not convinced that it’s a spoiler to say that slavery ends up abolished (and the Allies win World War II!).
What I love about period pieces is what passes for romance in them. Back in the day, people were very reserved and they expressed their feelings best by being pissed off by one another. A highlight of the movie is the relationship between Wilberforce and Barbara, the woman who is to become his wife (Romola Garai), which works on a level of “witty repartée” with only the slightest hint of hero worship – there being quite an age gap between the two.
Slavery and abolition are rather serious, heavy issues, so the fleeting levity of the film is always welcome. For this, one can rely on Jeremy Swift, who has one of the strangest free floating lines in the movie as Wilberforce’s butler, and the inimitable duo of Michael Gambon and Rufus Sewell. Gambon in particular is a delight.
Overall, though, Amazing Grace is pretty dry. It’s a character piece, populated by historical figures outraged by injustices perpetrated around them. All of the drama occurs in the Houses of Parliament, and there are a lot of shouting matches. Fortunately it doesn’t operate at the level of state ignorance as did Marie Antoinette, and everything on screen has a cause and effect. It’s a very well argued movie, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to call it “entertainment”. Some more character interactions would have served it well but, as it stands, Amazing Grace is a good period piece.