Friday, March 02, 2007

Movie Review: Amazing Grace

I went to see Amazing Grace on its opening weekend. I was glad I did. It was an extraordinary film with excellent acting, costuming, locations and story.

Amazing Grace is the story of William Wilberforce and his work to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. Wilberforce was a very interesting man on the human level, and worked for civility in politics and humane treatment of animals in addition to his political work against slavery. He was not always right about everything. He did not completely foresee the danger of Napoleon or the futility of negotiating with Napoleon during the wars between England and France. But Wilberforce was a great man who succeeded in convincing England to end the slave trade and eventually to end slavery itself.

The film has a variety of flashbacks and can be a bit confusing to people who don’t know something about the history or story line in advance or who are inattentive to the hints and clues given in the early parts of the film. One of the critical supports to Wilberforce is his own school teacher, John Newton. Newton had been a slave trader and upon converting to Christianity, gave up the trade. Nevertheless, he was haunted throughout his life with the memories and images of the brutality he had participated in. Newton became a clergyman and was also the author of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace.

Also important in Wilberforce’s life were the Clapham Circle—friends who supported abolition and did research toward that end, his extended family, and his wife. The romance between Wilberforce and his wife-to-be is a prominent feature of the movie, and shows the tremendous difference that a good marriage can make in the lives of individuals who are seeking to serve God in stressful fields.

The film also conveys something of the wisdom Wilberforce eventually obtained in dealing with political problems. He learned that sometimes a direct assault is not the best way to achieve political goals. Instead, they can sometimes be achieved incrementally through measures designed to have indirect effects that will make more radical change possible later on.

Unquestionably, Wilberforce is one of the most important figures in the history of the West. His efforts at political and moral reform in England were of the greatest importance. The end of the English slave trade also contributed to making it possible for America to end the slave trade and eventually abolish slavery here as well. Christians today should study Wilberforce and take lessons from his failures and successes as they too seek to influence society by limiting evil and promoting good.

It is not possible for Christians to transform earth into heaven. It is not even possible to eliminate all corruption from politics. But it is possible to work for the good and to eliminate some institutions such as slavery. The Bible instructs us to not only share the Gospel with our neighbors, but to free those who are oppressed and to help those who are hungry, thirsty and impoverished. Politics is not always the best way to achieve these goals, but it does serve a contributing part, particularly in ending oppression. William Wilberforce is an excellent example for us of how to bring about lasting and significant political change.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Nice review Don! JOE