Thursday, August 23, 2007

Amazing Grace

2007, UK/US, directed by Michael Apted

Amazing Grace is an unusually compelling historical re-creation, focused on the efforts of William Wilberforce to end British involvement in the slave trade in the late 1700s (his efforts didn't bear final fruit until 1807), but also providing a fascinating portrait of the realities of British parliamentary democracy in that era, and particularly during the governments of William Pitt the Younger. While inevitably the film spends more time with the moneyed classes of Britain (particularly England) rather than with slaves torn from Africa, it takes care to underline the connections between the two, and the uncomfortable sources of much of the Empire's wealth, while it also attempts to provide at least a cursory sense of the brutal circumstances that prevailed on slave ships and sugar plantations (one scene, where a genteel audience comes nose-to-nose with the stench of a slave transport, is especially effective, a bit of theatricality that Wilberforce used to his advantage).

Though Wilberforce harnesses parliament for noble ends, the film makes clear that it was a far from democratic place at the time (after all, even Wilberforce had to effectively purchase his seat), and the chronicle of shifting power alliances is especially engaging: director Apted is skilled at depicting both the backroom shenanigans, and the lowly but moving beginnings of the abolitionist movement, as well as the set pieces that inject a more conventional drama to the film.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States