“Amazing Grace” is the type of movie Hollywood rarely produces these days. It’s a serious and moving biography of William Wilberforce, an English politician who led a movement to ban slavery throughout the United Kingdom. It has no chase scenes or explosions, very little swearing, no sex, and no crass teenage humor. It’s a well-acted film about faith and perseverance, and the strength you can gain from a wife and from friends who believe in your cause.
The story opens in 1797 at a low point in Wilberforce’s career. He has labored for more than a decade in the British House of Commons to pass a bill outlawing slavery, and is ready to give up the cause. He’s discouraged, chronically ill, and addicted to a painkilling drug. During flashbacks we view highlights of his career up to that point, and we learn about his relationship with two important friends.
The first is William Pitt, who is about to become Prime Minister and encourages Wilberforce to join him in changing the world. Wilberforce is torn between his renewed longing to serve God and his desire to fight against slavery, and in a key sequence, Pitt introduces Wilberforce to some abolitionist friends who say, “We humbly suggest you can do both.”
The second important friendship is with John Newton, a former slave trader who came to Christ, wrote the celebrated hymn “Amazing Grace,” and eventually became an abolitionist himself. Newton also encourages Wilberforce to lead the fight and help still the voices of the thousands of slaves that haunt the former sea captain.
Many of Wilberforce’s fellow politicians also dislike slavery, but are afraid to vote against it because they believe the English empire’s economy would collapse if it was banned. When the story returns to 1797, he’s ready to give up the fight when he meets and falls in love with Barbara Spooner, who believes in abolition just as strongly as he does. This is a major turning point for Wilberforce; he marries Barbara and, fortified by her care and encouragement, he decides to renew the fight. He labors on for 10 more years until the House of Commons finally passes a bill outlawing the slave trade throughout the British empire.
I suppose there will be some jaded film reviewers who mock the film’s emphasis on the “healing power” of marriage. But it rang true for me, because I’ve seen how much strength my wife, Merry, and I draw from our mutual encouragement. For me, that’s what marriage is about—we are stronger together than we are alone.
“Amazing Grace” is a film to see as a couple and as a family. (With its mature subject matter, I think that children who are 10 or older would better enjoy and understand the story.) And it’s a film we ought to support if we want Hollywood to produce movies like this in the future.
Copyright © 2007 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.