The film "Amazing Grace" opens in two days. I was favored to see a preview last week. I commend the film highly. The ads suggest that the movie is about the song, but it isn't. The film is about the long struggle of William Wilberforce to end the slave trade in Britain. Friday, the day the film opens, is the 200th anniversary of the crucial vote in Parliament.
Let me say a bit about the movie first. Ioan Gruffudd does a pretty good job as Wilberforce. There is also a courtship story in the middle with a gorgeous Romala Garai as the eventual Mrs. Wilberforce. I thought the best performance came from Benedict Cumerbatch as Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, friend and close ally of Wilberforce's. Bristol Bay Productions made the film, following "Ray" and "The Chronicles of Narnia." Bristol Bay is not a Christian company, but, as we were told at the preview, it is full of Christians, and they have a mission to make decent films about moral triumph. "Amazing Grace" was one of the stories that Bristol Bay was created to make.
William Wilberforce is a hero of evangelical politics. I think he is all but unknown in this country due to his "right" religion and his "left" politics. He falls between the stools of American ideological polarization, which is a double pity – he should be a hero to both sides, and the sides shouldn't be divided into these camps, anyway. I think Wilberforce exemplifies the kind of "God's Politics" that Jim Wallis has in mind in the book of that title.
I had long wondered why it took more than twenty years for Wilberforce and the other abolitionists to succeed. What derailed the movement toward abolition for years was the French Revolution, and the subsequent war with France. Though there was no logical connection between the two, the slave powers succeeded in painting abolition as sedition, because abolitionists were critical of existing government policy in wartime.
"Amazing Grace" is not a great movie, but it is quite good. It is, though, the best movie about a great story, and a great model for religious politics today. I will be going with a colleague to opening night, taking vanloads of family and students. I urge you all to see it, too.