Saturday, 4 August 2007

Amazing Grace, Amazing Movie!

If I have to vote for my movie of the year, I would be torn between Becoming Jane and Amazing Grace (and if Elizabeth: the Golden Age comes, I might be torn as well. Or maybe not, for Amazing Grace is officially a 2006 movie). Hence, to sort it out, my romantic movie of the year is Becoming Jane. My historic movie of the year so far is Amazing Grace. And, as BJ is loaded with many evidence of her grandeur of pure love, so is Amazing Grace, which is loaded with concerns and hopes for a better humanity.

Amazing Grace is actually the title of a famous song written by British Evangelist John Newton circa 1772. It’s such a soulful song that you can shed your tears just listening to it. And it was more moving because Newton himself was once a captain of a slave ship as written by the U.S. Official Site:

John Newton (played by Albert Finney in Amazing Grace) wrote the words to one of the most beloved hymns of all time between 1760 and 1770, while working as an evangelical pastor. Son of the commander of a merchant ship, Newton was captain of a slave ship for many years, until he underwent a dramatic religious conversion while steering his vessel through a storm.

Repenting and regretting the misery he had inflicted on the thousands of human cargo he had transported across the Middle Passage for many years, he devoted his life to the Church, and wrote the lyrics to many hymns which are still popular today.

In 1780 Newton left Olney to become rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, St. Mary Woolchurch, in London. There he drew large congregations and influenced many, among them William Wilberforce. Newton continued to preach until the last year of life, although he was blind by that time. He died in London December 21, 1807.

Thank God that Newton still lived to see the efforts to abolish the slave trade in England finally produced the 1807 Slave Trade Act on 25 March 1807, after twenty years of struggles. I am sure he died peacefully.

The movie Amazing Grace focuses on the efforts of one of John Newton’s friends, i.e. William Wilberforce. Played exquisitely by Ioan Gruffudd, Wilberforce was indeed the symbol of freedom and liberty in Great Britain, one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon men that had worked relentlessly to free African slaves and to stop slavery in England. I’m proud to know this great man, albeit a bit late. I’m also glad to see Ioan at his best. Well, I cannot say that, for I only saw him as Mr. Fantastic in Fantastic Four, and I think he completely wasted his fantastic talent by doing such a mundane movie like FF (not to mention pairing up with Jessica Alba, who – with all due respect – cannot make me feel for Invisible Woman). But anyway, Ioan was the great William Wilberforce. His acting was superb, I feared that he would have a heart attack during the Parliamentary hearing sessions; the stupid old blokes were so stubborn and heartless, and he was so passionate. Attempts to make other Amazing Grace movies will have to find a better Wilberforce, which will be hard to do, for it’s rather hard to see other Wilberforces other than Ioan’s Wilberforce.

The movie had many excellent actors/actresses, e.g. Albert Finney as John Newton, Youssou N'Dour as Olaudah Equiano, Michael Gambon (Dumbledore in Harry Potter series) as Lord Charles Fox, Benedict Cumberbath (Stephen Hawking in Hawking, Patrick Watts in Starter for Ten) as Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (the William Pitt as said), Rufus Sewell as Thomas Clarkson, and the 1995 Persuasion’s Ciaran Hinds as the pro-slavery Sir Banastre Tarleton.

The beautiful Romola Garai (Vanity Fair, Inside I’m Dancing, Atonement) played as Barbara Ann Spooner, Wilberforce’s wife; a lovely smart young lady, about the same age as Jane Austen, but with much more money – no offense. It is interesting to note that William Wilberforce and Barbara were married in Bath on May 30th, 1797, only a fortnight after their first meeting (I should really visit Bath, eh?). Having scouring down many Austen facts these few months, I have learned that Jane Austen visited Bath in November/December 1797. Would Jane know of Barbara? She definitely heard of Wilberforce, and I am sure that Jane admired his work (Austen’s Mansfield Park is a critique to slavery in plantation). If Jane Austen knew about Barbara Wilberforce, I bet she would envy her freedom and opportunities, in a good way.

The movie has such a profound effect on me; I’ve decided to watch it for the second time, this time dragging my female friends (they were a bit afraid the movie would be gruesome). I regret to report that the major cinema in my city fails to screen this amazing movie. Instead, they focus on more mundane movies that I would rather not elaborate; movies that do not inspire you to do things for greater good.

Here’s the powerful lyric of Amazing Grace (listen with a capella or bagpipe and let the tears fall down…)

Amazing Grace (How sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ'd!

Thro' many dangers, toils and snare,
I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall profess, within the vail,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be for ever mine.

Read this for a great interview of with Ioan Gruffudd. Click this for a YouTube music video of Amazing Grace with the same song.

Pic 1: movie poster of Amazing Grace

Pic 2: the real William Wilberforce, from Wikipedia

Pic 3: Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce during a rough Parliamentary hearing, from Hollywood Jesus

Pic 4: Wilberforce (Gruffudd) and Barbara (Romola Garai), from

Pic 5: Wilberforce contemplating, from Amazing Grace


Michelle said...

Hi Icha! I'm so glad you loved "Amazing Grace", it is a very, very special movie. We're extremely lucky to have films of the calibre of Amazing Grace and Becoming Jane in such a close time span.

I agree with all your thoughts on the movie, every single one of them! I grew up learning about John Newton & Wilberforce (Christian home ;) and there is some amazing books out there that I'm certain you'll enjoy getting into (in your spare time, hehe).

It is the power and dedication and sacrifice in AG that I love - One man stood up and made a difference. Inspiring. And it's been the same throughout history - those how are truly good threaten evil corruption, and get turned on. In the case of those in AG, it was wonderful to see good finally triumph.

Good on you for taking your friends to see it, I've done the same. :)

Life-changing story filled with the creme of British acting, lovely cinematography, an excellent script (I think they handled the transitions very well thereby creating more 'punch'), and a beautiful soundtrack.

You can listen to samples here:

"Cheat the Law" and "Triumph" are amazing. Unfortunately the pipe band title song isn't on the CD. But, wasn't that a moment? The perfect was to end the film, paying tribute to those great men and women.

- Michelle

Icha said...

Thanks, mate! ^_^

I have to admit that I've watched more British drama since the last five months than I've ever done before... and Amazing Grace and Becoming Jane are my fave! (1998 Elizabeth also).

I've put the AG DVD in my pulling list, along with BJ DVD of course. And I will see Wilberforce again tomorrow! Can't wait!

But oh, I gotta finish my deadline first. Bummer!