Mark February 23 in your “must do” calendar. That is the opening in many theaters of Amazing Grace, which has an amazing script and amazing actors and actresses. The film is visually beautiful, moves very quickly (one of the most skillfully cut I have ever seen, jumping between years back and forth, in order to aid our understanding of the issues). The central battle at the spine of the movie takes place in the British Parliament over the hotly contentious issue of the abolition of slavery.
After decades of defeat and discouragement, William Wilberforce by a marvelous but uncharacteristic ruse, outfoxes the opposition, and gains his lifetime goal. In the process he falls in love – a bit obtusely – gets married, finds added inspiration and drive, has children, continues to fight, decade after decade.
He gathers evidence of the slave trade, witnesses, tales of the horror inside slave ships packed densely with as many as 600 young slaves from Africa chained to tiny cots, on voyages from which perhaps only 200 would emerge alive. Some were brutalized on the journey. All lived in their own cumulatively awful stench, chained away from latrines or places to wash, with no way to escape even for air. No way but death, after which they were thrown over the side – by the dozens.
Worse than animals was their treatment – at least animals would have been carefully treated, to keep them alive and in health.
Slowly, the people in England were awakened. Slowly the human conscience bit in, and courage grew to face the truth, and to do something definitive about it. The character of Sir William Pitt is especially brilliantly drawn, in a script as witty, playful, and humorous as it is full of suspense. The intelligence and character of William Wilberforce are rendered indirectly through the wit of his exchanges in the House of Commons, through his interactions with friends, through his daring and his discouragements. If you do not leave the theater feeling tears well up in your eyes, you have no heart. If you do not leave intellectually and visually far better informed, you have lost a part of your brain.
A truly exceptional film, I would love to take my grandchildren to it, and get every member of our far-flung family to put it on their lists for immediate viewing. This is a film that liberals as well as conservatives will love – it dramatizes something deep in each of their dreams of how brave men and women should behave, in respect to something they believe in as just and true and right.