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:: Amazing Grace

Released in Britain to mark the 200th anniversary of the bill by William Wilberforce that outlawed slavery in Britain, “Amazing Grace” tells the story of this fight to end the slave trade through the central character of William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), the great English social reformer who fought it for twenty years.

“Amazing Grace” opens in 1797 when Wilberforce is 38 and is in poor health, worn out by his thus far fruitless fight against the pro-slavery establishment. He retires to recover at the home of his cousin Henry and Marianne Thornton (Nicholas Farrell and Sylvestra Le Touzel) in Bath, where he is introduced to the free-spirited 20-year-old banker’s daughter, Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai). Barbara encourages the reticent Wilberforce to tell her about his struggles and the story reverts fifteen years to 1782 as William begins recounting the events that led him to his current predicament.

The film follows Wilberforce's career through his 20's and 30's, as he and his fellow humanitarians make the issue of slavery a talking point, not only in political circles, but also throughout the country. They wage the first modern political campaign, using petitions, boycotts, mass meetings and even badges with slogans to take their message to the country at large.

Ioan Gruffudd is part of a terrific cast. He holds his own against a formidable older generation (Michael Gambon, Albert Finney, Ciaran Hinds), much as the young Wilberforce had to in his political career. Romola Garai plays Barbara Spooner, the passionate idealist who captured Wilberforce’s heart and became his wife. She brings a welcome crisp, nononsense femininity to a film that contains, by necessity, rather a lot of scenes of stuffy politicians blustering at each other.

What Michael Apted’s film does convey articulately is the physical drain on the abolitionists. By the final years of the campaign they are more ghosts than men, weighed down by the evils they have seen but have not yet been able to prevent.

DVD Extras

Director's Commentary
Featurette: How Sweet the Sound
Chris Tomlin Music Video
Cast and Crew Interviews
B-Roll Footage
Original Theatrical Trailer