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Amazing Grace

Reviewed by Adrian B. Martinez

"See if you don’t walk away after viewing this movie with a new understanding to the hymn 'Amazing Grace'."

“Amazing Grace” is the telling story of antislavery pioneer William Wilberforce and is directed by Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough) from an original screenplay written by Academy Award nominee Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things). Featuring a stellar cast, we are introduced to this remarkable man as he retells the story of his life in flashbacks from when he was a 21-year old newly elected to the House of Commons to when he is an elder statesman in failing health, taking on the English establishment by persuading those in power to end the inhumane trade of slavery.

I sat down to view this movie believing I was going to see a movie on the history of the Hymn, “Amazing Grace”. Much to my surprise, I was introduced to a story of strength, belief, resilience, love, and sorrow and as the tag line states “…a story you will never forget.”

Ioan Gruffudd (most notably, Mr. Fantastic in the Fantastic 4 feature films) plays Wilberforce, who as a Member of Parliament navigated the world of 18th Century backroom politics to end the slave trade in the British Empire. The film opens with a sickly Wilberforce and his cousin Henry Thornton (Nicholas Farrell) taking a holiday in Bath, Somerset (England). This holiday will prove fruitful for Wilberforce, in more ways than simply regaining his health, as he is introduced to the woman who after a whirlwind courtship will become his wife, Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai).

It is through her insistence that he begins to recount his life from his ambitious beginning as a Member of Parliament. While the movie is initially slow-going up to that point, once he realizes his calling in life and you see the acknowledgement in his eyes, we are given a front row seat as he enters this journey, knowing he has a tough road to haul. He makes it his mission to end slavery in the British Empire, and, aided by a small band of radical thinkers and unlikely supporters, he annually presents a bill for abolition to Parliament.

In addition to his wife, who convinces him to keep fighting because if he does not, no one else is capable of doing so, he has a stable of confidantes who continually inspire him to pursue a life of service to humanity. We are given a glimpse throughout the film of these friendships. Two worthy of note are composer John Newton, portrayed by Albert Finney and William Pitt the Younger, England’s (age 24) youngest ever Prime Minister (Benedict Cumberbatch). John Newton, a penitent monk who is haunted by his past as a slave-ship captain is shown giving advice and a listening ear to Wilberforce all the while, trying to compose a piece of music that is to become the classic “Amazing Grace”.

Having the Prime Minister in your corner did not hurt Wilberforce’s cause either, as William Pitt the Younger constantly encourages his friend to take up the fight to outlaw slavery and supports him in his struggles in Parliament.

As the movie unfolds, over the next two decades we see Wilberforce exhausted and frustrated that he was unable to change anything in the government; he becomes physically ill, which brings the story back to the present day. Having virtually given up, William considers leaving politics forever.

In time, after many attempts to bring legislation forward over twenty years, he is eventually responsible for a bill being passed through Parliament in 1807, which abolishes the slave trade in the British Empire forever.

A great companion to this feature is the soundtrack featuring some of today’s biggest and brightest Contemporary Christian Artists with their takes on some of the best well-known hymns. Tackling such classics as, “Holy, Holy, Holy”, “It is Well”, “Just as I Am”, “Rock of Ages” and of course the title song are Chris Tomlin, Jeremy Camp, Bethany Dillon, Jars of Clay, Avalon and Steven Curtis Chapman, to name a few.

With a running time of 1 Hour 51 Minutes, this movie is a great telling of a little known story of one man’s struggle between politics and the Church that is retold with cinematic beauty. As it’s tagline states, “Every song has its story. Every generation has its hero.” See if you don’t walk away after viewing this movie with a new understanding to the hymn “Amazing Grace”:

…how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

MPAA Rating: PG (some thematic material involving slavery and mile language)

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Adrian B. Martinez: "Music and Movies, Movies and Music, always the twain shall meet" is Adrian B. Martinez's motto; a displaced New Yorker living in Connecticut. A complete Movie nut, Adrian was responsible for writing movie synopsis' for Loews Movie Theater's for over 5 years. At any given time that would be a synopsis for over 25 movies in one week. Whew! Nowadays, she is a regular in the Press area for the Creation Festival and Purple Door Festival. To keep her in the lifestyle she has become accustomed, she does web-design for DelMonico Hatter in New Haven, Ct. and serves as a Supervisor for the Hartford Civic Center, also in Ct. An avid traveler, Adrian has been to Europe numerous times and can be seen criss-crossing the United States in her re-furbished 1974 Orange Volkswagen Vanagon which has allowed her to participate in her favorite past-time, meeting new people….When she does take the time to stop, she spends her time with a very handsome man that goes by the name of Zorro. He can be seen sleeping on the couch, bed, bathing in the sunlight on a window ledge or anywhere else that he deems comfortable. Zorro of course, is her cat.