Written by: Steven Knight
Study Guide by Walden Media
IOAN GRUFFUDD - William Wilberforce
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH - Pitt the Younger (Prime Minister)
NICHOLAS FARRELL - Henry Thornton
SYLVESTRA LE TOUZEL - Marianne Thornton
ALBERT FINNEY - John Newton
MICHAEL GAMBON - Lord Charles Fox
ROMOLA GARAI - Barbara Wilberforce
GEORGIE GLEN - Hannah More
TOBY JONES - Duke of Clarence
YOUSSOU N'DOUR - Oloudaqh Equiano
RUFUS SEWELL - Thomas Clarkson
"Amazing Grace" is the story of philanthropist William Wilberforce's 20-year British political career to raise the salience of slavery and its immorality. When pure debate in Parliament made little progress, Wilberforce's anti-slavery coalition takes the issue to the people with books, news reports, protests, party tricks, medallions, speeches, song and petitions. His task was immense because slavery was an important part of Britain's economy. Money, not ethics, drove the British colony system.
Elected to Parliament at a young age, Wilberforce, a fast-witted and persuasive speaker, suddenly experiences Christian conversion. He decides to leave government and become a churchman. But his friend, William Pitt (the younger) who will soon become the youngest Prime Minister in British history, challenges Wilberforce by asking him if he could better use his voice to praise God or to change the world. It doesn't take much to convince Wilberforce that the alternatives indeed can be the same thing.
In February 1807, after a 20-year struggle interrupted by Wilberforce's chronic illness and war, Parliament passes a bill that will abolish the slave trade. But slave ownership is grandfathered in, and slavery in the colonies is still legal. For 26 years Wilberforce continues to speak against slavery. Then, in 1833, Parliament outlaws all forms of slavery, throughout the British Empire. Three days later, Wilberforce dies. He lived to see his dream fulfilled.
Of a person's and a nation's conscience we might say that the moral premise of AMAZING GRACE could be stated like this:
But there's a better way to explain what this movie is really about and what kind of person Wilberforce's character suggests we be about today.
Ambivalence and greed leads to injustice and slavery; but
Courage and generosity leads to justice and freedom.
First, the name William Wilberforce could have been chosen by a master fiction writer who give names to his characters that reflect the essence of their soul. William means "protector," and in our story William is a protector of the disenfranchised; not just slaves, but prisoners, the poor, women, and children. And the name Wilberforce suggests a persevering force of the will that comes as second nature.
Second, Wilberforce wants to give up his fight many times. It is long, tedious, he has few followers, and he is chronically ill. He needs a muse, a soul mate, and so Henry and Marianne Thornton introduce him to his future wife -- like-minded, and equally witty (at least in the movie) -- Barbara Spooner.
The film's Moment of Grace comes when Wilberforce is ready to give up his battle. As he strolls through a garden with Barbara their banter is focused on finding something this disagree on, so they will have an excuse to not become the romantic item that the Thornton's envision. Every political or social topic is broached, and no matter how opinionated one or the other pretends, the other reluctantly agrees. Until Wilberforce off-handedly comments that it is time to stop talking about the abolition of slaves. He's tired and he sees no progress. To which Barbara, responds:
Well, then, we have found something to disagree about. I believe we should continue to talk about slavery.Although they have found something to disagree on, it is this one thing that firmly unites them. To put an exclamation point on their discussion she says:
If there's a bad taste in your mouth, you spit it out; you don't swallow it.And thus the story takes a turn, as Wilberforce, with Barbara as his muse, begins to think more cleverly about ways of turning parliament against slavery. Where before the moment of grace he was content with debating the issue within the confines of government, now, after Barbara's challenge to "spit out the distaste" he recruits public opinion with books of eyewitness accounts, tours of slave ships, medallions minted by the china maker Wedgwood, petitions, and the personal testimony of outsiders who have witnessed the gross atrocities committed against slaves throughout the British Empire. One of those witnesses comes from the diary account of former slave trader John Newton (wonderfully played by Finney), who is William's pastor. It is Newton, of course, that wrote the song Amazing Grace.
In this context the Moral Premise of this great film creates a challenge and motivation for all of us, even today as we face injustice of many kinds, including modern slavery.
Such is the call to all of us who are concerned about what is wrong in our lives, our families, our communities, and our world.
Hiding evil by the darkness of ignorance leads to
injustice and a society's enslavement;
Revealing evil by the light of knowledge leads
to justice and society's freedom.
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