Thursday, June 05, 2008

AMAZING GRACE: A History Lesson

AMAZING GRACE (bio-drama)
Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Rufus Sewell, Nicholas Farrell, Michael Gambon, Albert Finney and Ciaran Hinds
Director: Michael Apted
Time: 115 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

(Gruffold and Garai)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? I am tempted to tag this 2006 movie as a history lesson about one man's bid to abolish the slave trade in England. While there are interesting bits here and there, especially about the atrocities committed to the African slaves, much of the film is presented like a documentary, with minimal character development.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The story opens in 1797 and, through flashbacks, covers a 25-year span between 1782 and 1807. It is about the efforts of Parliamentary abolitionist William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), who was the driving force behind Britain's ban on slavery (which was enforced in 1807). Wilberforce's main battleground is the English Parliament, where small group of allies (including Nicholas Farrell and Michael Gambon) square off against the pro-slavery MPs (including Ciaran Hinds and Toby Jones). There is also a romantic interlude involving the young and beautiful Barbara (Romola Garai), whose passion for William's crusade lead them to the altar. In a subplot, Rufus Sewell plays Thomas Clarkson, an abolitionist and revolutionary who pushes William to use his power to help the slaves.

HITS & MISSES: Despite attempts to 'embellish' his character, Gruffold comes across as a dour do-gooder whose only fault is that he becomes depressed when he can't change the world overnight. Romola Garai brightens up the narrative whenever she appears but she is wasted, with just a few scenes. Still, there is an impressive supporting cast of respected British actors. Albert Finney is remarkable as John Newton, the reformed slave trade captain who composed the titular hymn "Amazing Grace". Michael Gambon is Sir Charles Fox, the abolitionists' most respected supporter. Ciaran Hinds, who played Julius Caesar in the HBO series 'Rome' (of which Michael Apted directed three episodes) has a couple of scenes as Lord Tarleton but basically, their talents seem squandered with so little to do.

THE LOWDOWN: Mainly for those who like British epics.


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