Thursday, November 15, 2007

Amazing Grace DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Brit Abolitionist Bio-Pic Brought to DVD

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was born into a well-to-do family of British merchants. But rather than follow in his father’s footsteps, he opted to enter politics, and was elected to Parliament at the age of 21. Inspired to serve more by humanitarian interests than by blind ambition, the young philanthropist soon became a leading advocate of social reform.
He found his true calling after becoming an Evangelical Christian when he came under the influence of abolitionists like John Newton (Albert Finney), the remorseful, former slave ship captain who had written the hymn Amazing Grace following a dramatic religious conversion. Wilberforce experienced a similar spiritual epiphany which prompted him to lobby tirelessly against slavery for 20 years.
And it is this uphill battle which is vividly recounted in Amazing Grace, a compelling bio-pic from veteran director Michael Apted of the 7 UP series fame. Here, Apted ever so convincingly conveys the notion that an impassioned idealist is just as capable of shaping history as a monarchs or military hero.
Ioan Gruffudd makes a yeoman’s effort as Wilberforce in a challenging role which calls for him to portray, empathetically, a determined character somehow simultaneously imbued with an endearing humility offset by a God-ordained self-righteousness. The stellar supporting cast includes Youssou N’Dour as ex-slave Oloudah Equiano, Romola Garai as Wilberforce’s wife Barbara Spooner, and Michael Gambon as Lord Charles Fox.
Fair warning: Anyone expecting eye-popping action sequences is apt to be disappointed by this character-driven production. However, those approaching the picture as an overdue tribute to an overlooked icon are apt to be richly rewarded, and perhaps even inspired by this self-empowerment flick which arrives at a time when the world is sorely in need of another such hero, given the re-emergence of the institution of slavery in The Sudan and elsewhere.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG for mild epithets and mature themes involving slavery.
Running time: 111 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Audio commentaries by director Michael Apted and star Ioan Gruffudd, “Behind-the-Scenes” and “The Making of” featurettes, and a music video.

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