MOVIES: Amazing Grace (& the Abolition of the Slave Trade)

Last week Mama (the célèbre) chose ‘Amazing Grace’ for us to watch on her birthday.  As always, the true story of William Wilberforce’s tremendous efforts to end the slave trade in the late 18th century is SO VERY INSPIRATIONAL.

At that time the British Empire stretched from India to the West Indies, where many British leaders made their fortunes on the backs of slaves taken from Africa.  The whole economic system in England benefited from cheap slave labor with the slave trade entrenched in all levels of society.

As William Wilberforce and his small group of ‘itinerant preachers’ and activists take on the system, they need ‘Amazing Grace,’ the famous hymn written by former slave trader John Newton that figures prominently throughout the film. (At Papa’s request we played the Bagpipe version at the end THREE TIMES full blast on the Bose speakers – my ears are still ringing!)

There’s something in this movie for everyone: Taking on the establishment (Wilberforce must take on 200 MPs lining their pockets with the slave rrade); a love story (after submitting his bill again & again to Parliament & failing again & again, Wilber’s a bit worn out & needs something?!); drama (opium addictions & House of Parliament shenanigans inclusive); creative politicking (Lord Charles Fox asks PM Pitt to ‘play cards’ for Wilberforce); faith (Wilber has a conversion experience that drives his desire to transform society); friendship (Wilberforce & William Pitt the Younger); and so much more.

This movie also serves as an excellent example of what goes into an Advocacy Campaign. I’ve used it several times teaching an Advocacy Strategy course to university students (they didn’t seem to mind the evening session.)  Because, it’s all there – including the personal sacrifice & long-term commitment often required before things change. In the film, John Newton tells Wilberforce: “God sometimes does His work with gentle drizzle, not storms. Drip. Drip. Drip.”  That’s often how advocacy works as each one of us in our respective spheres of influence seeks to influence change, one drop in the bucket at a time.

And, if you’re young, you can change the world. Wilberforce became a Member of Parliament when he was only 21 and William Pitt (the Younger) became the youngest ever British Prime Minister.  In the film, Wilber says: “No one of our age has ever taken power.” Pitt responds: “Which is why we’re too young to realize certain things are impossible. Which is why we will do them anyway.

And, faith doesn’t mean you can’t manage your beliefs and engage in politics or advocacy. On the contrary, after introducing him to horrors of the slave trade, Methodist activist Hannah More tells Wilberforce: “we contend that you can do both..”

An outstanding cast delivers truly stellar performances: Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce, Benedict Cumberbatch as PM Pitt the Younger, Rufus Sewell as Thomas Clarkson, West African singer Youssou N’Dour as freed slave activist Olaudah Equiano, Romola Garai as Wilber’s wife-to-be Barbara Spooner, Ciaran Hinds as the opposition leader Lord Tarleton, with celebrated actors Michael Gambon as Lord Fox and Albert Finney as Wilber’s teacher & former slave trader, John Newton.

If you haven’t seen this movie, you will be inspired (trust me, it’s one of my favorite favorites, way up there with Chariots of Fire!)

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”  William Wilberforce

 grace, peace & Amazing Grace

Virginia : )

p.s. Here’s another great movie recommendation for Lent just out on DVD – The Way (starring Martin Sheen.) My brother blogged it last week on the Williamsburg Regional Library’s award-winning site “Blogging for a Good Book.” Check out this link to read his review:  The Way (2011)

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One Response to MOVIES: Amazing Grace (& the Abolition of the Slave Trade)

  1. Pingback: Amazing Grace (jazzzzingly amazing!) | Roses in the Rubble

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