by RISHI AGRAWAL
Amazing Grace is a biopic of William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd of Fantastic Four fame), a devoted abolitionist in late 18th (and early 19th) century England. The film is directed by veteran Michael Apted (Nell, The World is Not Enough). The film is adequate, but so terribly bland that it is, in fact, slightly less interesting than my high school History classes.
The film opens with Wilberforce being stricken with some kind of affliction, dejected over the fact that he has been unable to get his abolitionist agenda passed in Parliament. We mostly see his early struggles through flashback. His friends think that introducing him to a like-minded woman (Romola Garai) might help. Wilberforce, energized mostly by the changing political climate, renews his fight against slavery. In a side plot, one of Wilberforce’s friends (Albert Finney) is the former captain of a slave vessel and now a priest, who has penned the song “Amazing Grace.” We hear the song about two times too many during the course of the film.
The film gives us exactly what we would expect: some witty dialogue and good acting. The recreation of the time period is detailed and believable. Unfortunately, this is very much workmanlike filmmaking. Although there is nothing in the film that makes you cringe, there is absolutely nothing in the film that pops out or is in the least bit memorable.
Wilberforce is pretty much dedicated singularly to the abolition of slavery. He does have a couple of quirks, such as his love of animals and nature, but, truth be told, he is not the most complex individual. A good biography should show you all aspects of the subject’s character, warts and all. I do not know enough about the real Wilberforce to know if he had any flaws, but there are none to be seen in this film.
The most interesting parts of the films are the recreation of the Parliamentary debates concerning abolition. There is something fun about watching the members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords yell at each other from across the aisle. Wilberforce’s tricks and political maneuvers are fascinating as well. However, I still can’t shake the feeling that I would not have been as interested if I wasn’t learning something. Again, how is this film better than a history lecture?
If you are particularly interested in the time period or subject matter, then you would probably enjoy this film. Otherwise, I simply cannot recommend it.