September 10, 2007

My review of "Amazing Grace"

The Scourge of Slavery

Amazing Grace

Reviewed by Steve Sailer in The American Conservative
March 26, 2007


Since 1991, conservative film critic Michael Medved has been pointing out that R-rated films do worse at the box office on average than family fare, but Hollywood keeps making more R-rated films than financial logic would suggest.


Billionaire Philip F. Anschutz, a devout Presbyterian, has been placing large bets on the family-oriented film business recently, hitting it big with "Ray" and huge with "The Chronicles of Narnia." Anschutz's latest, "Amazing Grace," the biopic of the amiably saintly William Wilberforce, the evangelical Anglican Member of Parliament who battled for two decades to abolish the slave trade before finally succeeding two centuries ago in 1807, won't match their returns, but it's a worthy and intelligent (if not quite exceptional) effort.


It features a fine cast of British stage actors, including such high class hams as Albert Finney as Wilberforce's religious mentor John Newton, Michael Gambon as his Whig Parliamentary ally, the old sinner Charles James Fox, and Ciaran Hinds as Lord Tarleton, chief bribe-dispenser for the slave interests. Unfortunately, the three look rather alike, especially when wearing powdered wigs, exacerbating the difficulty of deciphering the subtle political maneuvering.

The budget for "Amazing Grace" was limited enough that not much of the horror of the slave trade could be shown. Instead, we watch Wilberforce talking about it, eloquently, with the abolitionists Thomas Clarkson and Oloudaqh Equiano, the Nigerian-born ex-slave who published a bestselling autobiography in 1789.

The film's historical accuracy is above average. One forgivable slip is that while Newton, a former slave trader who repented, did indeed pen the great hymn's words -- "I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now, I see" -- his verses weren't joined to the current melody of "Amazing Grace" until 1832.


Also understandable is casting handsome Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd ("Fantastic Four") as Wilberforce, although he was actually only 5'-3" due to curvature of the spine, and almost blind to boot. Still, Gruffudd's looks sap the romantic tension, just as casting the exquisite Keira Knightley as the sensible Elizabeth Bennett in the most recent version of "Pride and Prejudice" undermined that famous story. "Amazing Grace" is organized around the night the 20-year-old Titian-haired beauty Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai) fell in love with the 37-year-old Wilberforce as he told her the story of the political struggle in which he'd ruined his health. On-screen, though, it seems inevitable that they'll marry, since they are the two most beautiful people in England.


Unfortunately, complex historical stories like this are better suited to the leisurely pace of the television mini-series because a two-hour film has to leave out much. For instance, "Amazing Grace" fails to mention that Wilberforce was a Tory or that his religious enthusiasm was quite unfashionable during the deistic Enlightenment.


Moreover, banning the slave trade in 1807 made the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in the 1830s relatively painless. The West Indian sugar planters had routinely worked their slaves to death and thus needed fresh slaves from Africa to prosper. In contrast, slaves multiplied on the less harsh tobacco and cotton plantations of America, so slave owners still thrived after Congress ended the trade in 1808.


Contemporary audiences so lack historical knowledge that veteran director Michael Apted ("Coal Miner's Daughter") and writer Steven Knight decided that there's no point in even trying to make clear who is whom in the film. For the first hour, for example, no effort is made to explain who Wilberforce's best friend Billie (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is, or why in the world Billie thinks (correctly) that he can become Prime Minister at age 24. He's just some guy named Billie who is Prime Minister for two decades. Explaining that Billie's father, William Pitt the Elder, had been the dynamic war leader during the Seven Years War would only annoy the public, so why bother?


The Cheap Labor Lobby that plagued Wilberforce has hardly vanished. The government of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. possession in the Pacific, paid disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff $9 million to persuade former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay not to let the House crack down on its guest worker program under which tens of thousands of Asian women were imported to toil in sweatshops within barbed wire enclosures. Some who became pregnant were forced to have abortions by their employers. Others were assigned to bordellos.


Now, the Bush Administration wants to create new guest worker programs for the American mainland.


But where is our Wilberforce?



Rated PG for thematic material involving slavery, and some mild language.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Steve Sailer: The Cheap Labor Lobby that plagued Wilberforce has hardly vanished. The government of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. possession in the Pacific, paid disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff $9 million to persuade former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay not to let the House crack down on its guest worker program under which tens of thousands of Asian women were imported to toil in sweatshops within barbed wire enclosures. Some who became pregnant were forced to have abortions by their employers. Others were assigned to bordellos.

This is maybe a little off-topic, but ever since I started pointing out to people that the world's intelligence & the world's fertility are almost perfectly INVERSELY related, I've always wondered what the "Northern Mariana Islands" were doing near the bottom of the fertility list.

Something is rotten in the state of the NMI's...

TOP 10 MEAN IQ

107 Hong Kong
106 South Korea
105 Japan
104 Taiwan (ROC)
102 Austria
102 Germany
102 Italy
102 Netherlands
101 Sweden
101 Switzerland

BOTTOM 10 TOTAL FERTILITY RATE

1.25 Moldova
1.24 Ukraine
1.23 Bosnia and Herzegovina
1.23 Japan
1.22 Belarus
1.22 Czech Republic
1.21 Northern Mariana Islands (US)
1.12 Republic of China (Taiwan)
1.07 Singapore
1.03 Macau (PRC)
0.98 Hong Kong (PRC)

Mark said...

It features a fine cast of British stage actors, including...Ciaran Hinds as Lord Tarleton, chief bribe-dispenser for the slave interests.

Ciaran Hinds, aka Julius Caesar, for those who may have seen the terrific HBO series "Rome" (the 2nd season is just out on disc).


Also understandable is casting handsome Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd ("Fantastic Four") as Wilberforce, although he was actually only 5'-3" due to curvature of the spine, and almost blind to boot.

Forgiveable, is it? It might actually be nice, just once, to have a movie show that, yes indeedy, ugly people can be great, brilliant, wise, and brave. Just a thought.

Unfortunately, complex historical stories like this are better suited to the leisurely pace of the television mini-series because a two-hour film has to leave out much.

Do television stations make mini-series anymore? Do people still watch them? Just asking...


For instance, "Amazing Grace" fails to mention that Wilberforce was a Tory or that his religious enthusiasm was quite unfashionable during the deistic Enlightenment.

Kinda like the reverse of news reports, where a Republican in a scandal is always denoted as a Republican but a Democrat has no party at all.


The Cheap Labor Lobby that plagued Wilberforce has hardly vanished.

The problem today is that the cheap labor lobby has all the churches in its back pocket. As just one example, the Mormon Church owns one of Utah's two major newspapers, the Deseret Morning News. Who have they chosen as its chairman? A homebuilding robber baron named Ellis Ivory, a man with no experience in publishing who has turned the News into a shill for open borders so that he can keep having his cheap labor and increased demand for his product. And the publisher? Joe Cannon, the brother of Congressman Chris Cannon (R-La Raza).

Yeah, good luck finding your William Wilberforce. The churches today are as corrupt as the slave traders of yore.

Call Down Fire said...

Thanks for the review, Steve. I'm a little behind the times and still haven't seen this biopic, but I did recently read/review a great biography on John Newton written by Jonathan Aitken called, "From Disgrace to Amazing Grace" and it was an "amazing" read (pun intended).