Earlier this week I saw a sneak preview of Amazing Grace, which tangentially tells the story of the famous song, but is mostly about the life and work of Parliament member William Wilberforce, who sought to abolish the slave trade in Britain.
While at times it has the look and feel of a BBC movie, and features actors with difficult names (Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Ciarán Hinds, Youssou N'Dour), it's worth seeing in the cineplex. The film opens with Wilberforce (Gruffudd) ill from nonstop activism -- and a bout of colitis. As he convalesces at his cousin's estate, he meets Barbara (Garai), a younger activist who grew up hero-worshipping him. About half of the movie is told in flashbacks, as he reluctantly explains his losing battles against Lord Tarleton (Hinds) and other members of Parliament, a vast majority of whom make their fortunes off the slave trade.
Normally, I'm not a big fan of films that jump around in time when they could more coherently be told in chronological order (Flags of Our Fathers is a recent violator), but it makes sense here. The knowledge of Wilberforce's struggle is half the battle, at least to Barbara, and her ability to convince him to regain his influential voice and continue his fight propels the second half of the movie.
The juxtaposition also illustrates how the abolitionists appear to age decades in a 15-year span. Most notable are Rufus Sewell, who takes a break from playing villains, and N'Dour, best known for singing "In Your Eyes" with Peter Gabriel.
Not knowing this story, I was fascinated by the murky connections among war, economics, and slavery -- after all, the pattern repeats itself in America a half-century later. And it's ironic to consider Wilberforce ahead of his time when all he advocates is equality, a principle as old as the human race.
As a final note, Amazing Grace boasts an unusual pair among its producers: elusive director Terrence Malick and sitcom actress Patricia Heaton. Not sure how that happened.