Movie review: Amazing Grace (2006)

Some men spend their lives devoted to a cause for the betterment of others. William Wilberforce was one such man.

His name may not be known to many outside of the UK. He was the visible force behind the abolition of slavery in the British empire. After years and years of struggle in Parliament, he and his fellow abolitionists managed to get the Slave Trade Act of 1807 passed. Then in 1833, just three days before he died, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, putting an end to slavery in the UK.

Amazing Grace details the start of Wilberforce’s life in Parliament as an MP to the passage of the Slave Trade Act, which abolished the slave trade (but not slavery itself). Wilberforce was a stance supporter of many causes, one being the humane treatment of animals. The opening scene in the movie is a painful one that drives home this fact.

The movie shows his close personal relationship with William Pitt, who became the prime minister of the UK. Both were members of Parliament at a young age. When Wilberforce was trying to decide whether to throw himself into a life of Parliament or a life of Christian meditation and solitude, people around him, including Pitt, urged him to remain in Parliament to fight for the abolition of slavery.

Pitt continually encouraged him, introducing Wilberforce to important abolitionists from across the country. During the years of war with France, these associations became dangerous, even seditious. Wilberforce exhausted himself in the struggle and ended up damaging his health, though he outlived Pitt by 30 years.

The movie includes several figures in the abolitionist movement. Two in particular stood out to me: John Newton and Olaudah Equiano. The former was a former slave trader, the latter a slave who gained his freedom. Both wrote autobiographies (Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade and The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African).

The title Amazing Grace of course refers to the famous hymn, which was written by John Newton, the former slave trader. The movie shows an interesting slice of time in the British Parliament and the abolitionist movement in the UK. Amazing Grace has the added bonus of being a very well done and engrossing movie.

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