Amazing Grace (2006)

Rated: PG
Grade: BBAB=B
Budget: $29 million
Box Office: $21 million US, $7 million abroad

Directed by: Michael Apted, who has a long movie pedigree including The World Is Not Enough, Enigma, Lipstick, Class Action, Gorky Park, Continental Divide, and Coal Miner’s Daughter as well as the upcoming Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell, Youssou N’Dour, and Ciaran Hinds.

This is the political biography of William Wilberforce, the man primarily responsible for the abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain. He must persist in his fight through years and year of parliamentary setbacks, including being considered nearly a traitor during the war with America, until he finally wins the fight to see slavery done away with.

Entertainment Value: B
Of course the story is outstanding, and even more so because it is true. This is a movie about God, political machinations, human decency, and justice. I wouldn’t describe it as uplifting, however, only because in the end, there were really so many opponents who never really repented from what they were doing.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sexuality A, Violence D, Language A, Illegality A
There are two main things that will concern you here. One is the depiction of slaves in brutal conditions and the direct description of things really too awful to imagine were actually done to them. The other is the use of an opiate remedy which clearly has health effects upon Wilberforce.

Significant Content: A
How could a movie about the abolition of slavery by a man of God who was inspired in part by the greatest hymn ever written not be an A for significant content? It’s not just about the evils of slavery, but it’s about the duty of the rest of us who claim to love God to act as if we do. We must not hibernate in some safe enclave of Christianity but be about doing the work of God in the world. Persistence in the face of insurmountable odds when you have right on your side will eventually work. Honoring the duty of loyalty you have to your king while working to change the system from within. Resisting the impulse to revolution. Knowing how to achieve real victory rather than just to symbolically feel like you’ve done your part. Oh, yeah, and openly acknowledging God and the joy of knowing Him. That’s pretty good stuff.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
The story is told as a flashback retrospective, but for some reason I found the time-shifting difficult to follow because there didn’t seem to be clear markers differentiating the past from the present. Also, and call me peculiar on this score, but I found the various times in which the grammar used by the speakers was so clearly American 2007 rather than British 18th Century irritating. If you’re going to have them use British accents, at least allow them to conjugate their verbs properly and use the correct pronouns, I say. Nonetheless, it’s well filmed and of course a story well worth telling.

Discussion Questions:
~One of the themes here is the tension between revolutionary change and gradual change. When facing a monstrous social evil like slavery, how do you decide which way to proceed? Which is better: an imperfect order or a revolution in pursuit of a perfect order? Consider America, France, and Britain on both the issue of revolution and slavery cessation.
~“If we cease participating, it will only mean that someone else will make the money from doing it.” This sounds like a terrible moral argument, but is there any merit in the idea that politicians must look out for the economic interests of their country? How might Jesus’s admonition that you cannot server God and mammon apply?
~In the end, it took a very crafty end run around to accomplish ending the slave trade rather than a frontal and symbolically satisfying assault. Why might they have been reluctant to do it this way? Which matters more, being able to say you lost valiantly and foolishly or being able to say you really changed things for the people you’re trying to help? Can you think of any modern examples or issues to which this might apply?
~What does this movie show about the power of music to change people?
~“It’s not that I got hold of God, it’s that He got hold of me.” What do you think of this statement by Wilberforce?
~It is convenient to think of our enemies in social matters as evil, but this movie shows that they are often simply ignorant or deceived. Why is this an important distinction?
~What conclusion might you draw about the state of race relations in America today based on the reaction most viewers would have to the use of a racial slur in this movie?
~Given the changes in technology and also commerce, do you think the end of slavery was inevitable or not? How much of the victory in this movie seems to come from persistent hard work and how much from historical inevitability?
~A lot of the political dialogue in this movie depends on wit and personal jabs rather than on substance. Do you think this is fitting for Christians?
~Do you think it’s possible to remain holy as a Christian even in the realm of politics?
Overall Grade: B
Yep. That’s another Christian-made production that qualifies as good film. Not Academy Award material, but still solid.

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