CT Movies: "Set to be released on February 23 2006, the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade. Stars Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce, an outspoken Christian and political activist who played a large role in bringing about the slave trade's end. Albert Finney, Romola Garai, Rufus Sewell, and Michael Gambon also star."
First I heard of this one was early this fall. A friend phoned me from L.A., where it was showcased at a Jim Wallis / Richard Rohr / Anne Lamott conference. My buddy was ambivalent, mostly because the film felt more like propaganda than art in the context of being used to stir up political consciousness about modern day slavery. So I lost some interest in the flick. But then I checked out the TIFF listing, turns out it's directed by Michael Apted! So it's the real deal. And I've since learned that the screenplay is by Steven Knight, who penned DIRTY PRETTY THINGS - an extreme favourite of mine. Hurry February....
The Toronto International Film Festival write-up...
Festival favourite Michael Apted brings his unique cinematic finesse to Amazing Grace, a captivating historical drama that is tremendously appealing to both the heart and the mind. Skyrocketing Welsh star Ioan Gruffudd embodies William Wilberforce, the impassioned British Parliamentarian who led abolitionists in their crusade to end the slave trade, while the matchless Albert Finney is riveting as a former slave trader-turned-penitent man of the cloth. In the sure hands of these great talents, Amazing Grace materializes as a lavishly realized tribute to individual strength of will.
We first meet Wilberforce, a disillusioned shell of a man, in 1797. Not so many years before, his name had inspired reformers fighting for the future of the nation. Now, however, he is haunted by the guilt of his great failure: he had fallen just short of legislating freedom for those being shackled in the colonies of the New World.
From here, the film moves backwards, introducing us to the younger Wilberforce, a firebrand politician. Heralded early in his career for his integrity and courage, he is undaunted by the boys' club atmosphere enclosing his parliamentary fellows in a bubble of moral indifference. Attractive and charming, he becomes a prodigious idol of reformers: many a proper young woman swears off sugar when he exposes the evils of plantations. His friend - and, later, the country's Prime Minister - William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an ideal foil. Pitt keeps avenues open by hewing to the straight and narrow, while Wilberforce storms through the doors, hollering for reform. They harbour great hopes, but change is slow to arrive: the spoils of the slave trade funnel into the pockets of the nation's most powerful politicians and the old guard persistently sabotage Wilberforce's campaign.
But he would not be defeated and Apted and his tremendous cast - which also features Romola Garai, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon, Ciarin Hinds and Youssour N'Dour - have crafted a brilliant account of his perseverance. Culminating with Wilberforce's final, all-important showdown against his political foes, Amazing Grace is a stunning tribute to the victory of those seeking the common good over the machinations of those hiding in the dark corners of power. It is truly, deeply inspiring.