Sunday, December 09, 2007

Grace Through Film

Many people have never heard the name William Wilberforce, nor are they aware of what he accomplished during his lifetime. However, nearly everyone has heard of the hymn "Amazing Grace" -- and the film A. and I watched recently is the intersection of both of these, the known and the unknown.

Kansas Bob had done a review of this film back in February when it first came out (I'm a bit behind the curve on seeing it, but I tend to rely more and more on Netflix), and I'd encourage you to read what he had to say here. I agree with everything he said; it was a truly remarkable film about someone who put his faith into action -- someone who had a choice between a life devoted to God and a life devoted to politics, and who found a way to do both. Ioan Gruffudd, who was cast in the role of Wilberforce, struck me as being the perfect choice for the part -- moving nearly seamlessly from moments of pure awe at what he saw as God's creation in the world around him to moments of intense passion in the halls of Parliament. (As an aside, I'll add here that I was even more pleasantly surprised by his performance when you consider that the only other films in which I had seen him act were the two Fantastic Four films, which were at the very least quite cornball.)

Wilberforce was a man who became a hero to men no less significant than Abraham Lincoln, who was to deal with the issue of slavery here in this country just three decades after the practice was abolished throughout the British Empire. He devoted nearly forty years to eliminating the slave trade, first by leading the fight on legislation banning the slave trade and then seeing legislation passed (just three days before his own death) that outlawed slavery entirely. And he did it in spite of the tremendous forces at work against him within Parliament, making this almost a sort of come-from-behind victory.

A friend and mentor to Wilberforce, John Newton (played by Albert Finney), was a former slave trader who turned away from that profession in the 1750s and spent the remainder of his life trying to atone for his sins and seek forgiveness from the 20,000 souls he said were following him. It was Newton, who authored many hymns in his life, who penned "Amazing Grace," "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken," and others that I'm sure you'd know almost instantly upon hearing them. The friendship between the two is a pillar of the film, and the point of the intersection (as I mentioned above) between the hymn we all know and the story that we don't.

Of course, the most remarkable films to me are the ones that provide memorable lines, and this one certainly provided many. However, there's one that has stuck with me that I hope will give you just as much pause for thought -- it was written by Francis Bacon and reads, "It's a sad fate for a man to die too well known to everyone else and still unknown to himself."

Visually, the film was breathtaking, and the soundtrack added an even stronger level of feeling just below the surface. It's a very moving story, and although I haven't yet read any of the two or three highly recommened Wilberforce biographies on the market today I'll go out on a limb and say that this film tells the story in a highly emotional and unforgettable way.

On the NOVA Dad rating scale, five out of five! And if this isn't enough motivation for you to pick up a copy to see for yourself, perhaps this trailer will...


Kansas Bob said...

I can't believe that you remembered that I did a review.. I liked yours better.. more complete.. made me want to go out and rent it.

trace said...

We LOVED this movie. Good review, you captured the emotion well.

Hope all is well.