Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.
Release Date: February 23rd, 2007 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Michael Apted Actors: Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Benedict Cumberbatch, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Youssou N’Dour
oan Gruffudd gives an invigorating performance as William Wilberforce, the sharp-witted, determined supporter of abolition in “Amazing Grace,” the true story of one man’s struggle against a kingdom. With impressive turns from an equally impressive cast, this epic battle is one fought not with blood and steel, but with intelligent words and cunning linguistics. Brimming with intricate character development, pertinent morals, and thematic gusto, “Amazing Grace” is a period piece not confined by its period or the piece of history it so masterfully depicts.
In 18th century England, William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) fought tirelessly in Parliament to end slavery and the slave trade throughout the British Empire. The film chronicles his successes and defeats, while also delving deeper into the life of the remarkable idealist and the events that shaped and influenced his extraordinary career. Forced to contend with debilitating illness as well as the ruthlessly powerful and deviously manipulative lords supporting the slave trade, Wilberforce overcame adverse odds and managed to construct a diverse and unexpectedly strong movement for abolition. Composed of a flashback structure that relates his many tribulations, “Amazing Grace” also reveals a poignant tale of love, friendship, and the unending efforts that led to his monumental achievements.
The overarching storyline, depicted through a flashback device, enables a traversal of several years in a non-sequential fashion. At once an engaging courtroom drama and a whimsical love story, the carefully structured result remains assertively paced throughout, featuring a mood that is seldom as grim as its subject matter would expectedly afford. Despite being devoid of any gladiators or soldiers dying on the battlefield, “Amazing Grace” boasts a surprisingly epic feel.
Though its themes are powerfully presented (and potent by themselves), the film would not have achieved its pronounced conviction were it not for the overwhelming talent of its cast. Ioan Gruffudd magnificently portrays the brazen speaker with rebellious charm and heartfelt sincerity. And aiding him in his ceaseless crusade are Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Clarkson (Rufus Sewell), who both impart strong roles – one a figurehead working behind the scenes and the other a resolute right-hand man. Michael Gambon effortlessly steals his scenes as the cynically droll Lord Fox, ever ready with his sharp tongue and comedically commanding presence, while Albert Finney provides a bold portrayal as John Newton, the former slave ship captain who wrote the title song and eventually sought forgiveness for his sins. The antagonistic Lord Tarleton (Ciaran Hinds) and Duke of Clarence (Toby Jones) add a refined touch of villainy to their characters, creating a far more satisfying conclusion when they inevitably fall to the band of heroes. Not a dull performance exists in this stunningly graceful drama.
Perhaps a bit over sentimental at times, “Amazing Grace” still captivates with its diverse cast of exceptional talent, often movingly witty dialogue, magnificent recreations of 18th century costumes and sets, and its incredible based-on-a-true story. Thankfully, it also relinquishes any long-winded speeches, which could have driven the message too hard. Instead, it allows the actions of the dauntless Wilberforce and his followers to do what they do best – speak for themselves.
– Joel Massie