WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN FILMS
Inspired by Christian teachings against slavery, William Wilberforce leads an arduous but ultimately victorious life-long battle to abolish the slave trade. Amazing Grace credits: [Dir: Michael Apted/ Ioan Gruffudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, Albert Finney/ 111 min/ Drama, Biography/ Anti-slavery, Law & the Individual]
Slavery is as old as mankind. It pervades all of human history and all the globe until modern times; and after disease and death it has probably been the single greatest source of human misery. So how, after so many thousands of years, was it suddenly reduced from being a common, mainstream and legitimate institution to an abhorrent aberration — generally rare and hidden — largely confined to the moral backwaters of the world?
That’s the subject of this film: the rise of the anti-slavery movement in England, and more specifically the rise of a man who did more to free slaves than anyone since Moses, a guy you probably have never heard of: William Wilberforce.
A devout Christian, Wilberforce was animated by a desire to serve God in some capacity; but wealth and family connections had put him on a fast-track for a promising career in Parliament. Unsure which path to pursue, he sought the advice of a London rector, John Newton. The choice was providential.
Newton (who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace, after which the film is titled) was a former slave-ship captain turned abolitionist. He advised Wilberforce to remain in Parliament and “serve God where he was.”
Influenced by Newton — and in alliance with other Christians opposed to the slave trade, particularly Thomas Clarkson, as well as members of the Whig Party (the precursor of modern libertarianism) — Wilberforce first proposed to Parliament in 1789 that the slave trade should be abolished. His proposal was not only soundly defeated but ridiculed from the start. Slavery had been around for thousands of years in every corner of the globe. Why should it stop now?
Wilberforce nonetheless persevered for nearly two decades, and that is much of what you see in this film: his relentless efforts to document and advertise the atrocities of slavery, his campaigning to win over powerful converts to the anti-slavery movement, and his quixotic battles in Parliament. Finally, in 1807 the “Abolition of the Slave Trade Act” was passed.
The moment was a watershed in the cause of human freedom. The bill abolished the slave trade throughout the British Empire, and more than that triggered a less well-known “finest hour” of British history. Under the influence of Whig abolitionists Britain took an aggressive posture against slavery outside the Empire as well, using the Royal Navy to destroy slave-trading centers along the African coast and to capture the ships of slavers, effectively ending the transatlantic slave trade. To this day, slavery remains largely only in the Islamic and socialist spheres.
Wilberforce’s story is faithfully and warmly told here. Ioan Gruffudd (a.k.a. Horatio Hornblower) gives a fine performance in the leading role, and is supported by (at the time this film was made the little-known actor) Benedict Cumberbatch, as William Pitt.
Allow yourself to be moved by this film. I went into it with a critical eye as I was unaware of Wilberforce’s story, and thought his portrayal — a man besieged by poor health spending the last ounce of his life fighting for the freedom of others — must have been exaggerated for dramatic effect. If anything, events were understated. The film gives Wilberforce a happy ending, but in reality he died just three days after his anti-slavery bill came into law.
External Reviews of Amazing Grace
“Amazing Grace tells the story of the late-18-century English member of Parliament William Wilberforce, who as a young man finds his religious conscience so seared by the existence of slavery in his society that he turns away from a career in the religious ministry, which he would greatly prefer to undertake, in favor of a career in politics, where he can manifest his love for God by making the world a better place. This is both scripturally sound and historically accurate. Wilberforce did indeed help to make the world a much better place.”
“Impressively directed, politically relevant and occasionally inspirational, Amazing Grace is an enjoyable, engaging drama with strong performances from its talented cast.”
“This is one of the greatest stories in history. And now it is the subject of an impressive new movie…the story reminds us that humanity has made great progress toward freedom, that each battle for freedom can be long and seemingly futile, but that the goal is worth time and money and effort.”