A review of “Amazing Grace” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: Not Rated but could be PG for mature themes and some violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

 

 

Michael Apted (of “Up” documentaries fame) helms a sincere but dry re-telling of the tireless fight for the abolition of slavery.

In late 18th century England antislavery pioneer William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) is nearing physical and emotional collapse from his relentless and all-consuming cause. As William also suffers from severe colitis he’s forced to retire to the country home of generous benefactors for some much-needed R & R.

Said patrons also double as match-makers and William is surreptitiously thrown together with spirited admirer Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai). Ms. Spooner is sweetly sympathetic to his cause so William gratefully spills the bitter details of his fiery crusade.

The fight for antislavery is an uphill battle that divides friends and creates enemies. William is assured the support of future Prime Minister William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch) but butts heads and liberal politics with evil opponents Lord Tarlton (a perfectly nasty Ciaran Hinds) and the crafty Duke of Clarence (Toby Jones).

William’s bill is repeatedly defeated but with the help of a few strategically placed revolutionaries, not to mention the love of a good woman (cue the violins!), he is ultimately victorious.

“Grace” is timed for optimal historical punch considering the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in England. The pretty period piece is slow to build, stepping out cautiously earnest and burgeoning to a crescendo of goodwill and patriotism.

The character studies are conventionally camera-ready, no middle ground between black and white; good and evil. Prose can ring false and flowery; “the ship of state must not be sunk by a wave of good intention”, etc.

Fortunately Gruffudd is blessed with enough charisma to stage a convincing love story as well as wage cunning political war against an inhumane establishment for whom creature comforts trump the desire to outlaw slave trade.

Michael Gambon and Albert Finney lend an air of veteran cache while splendid era wigs and costumes give visual sway. Climax is a groundswell of tear-inducing virtue that ultimately leaves “Grace” on a high, if not amazing, note.