Film: Amazing Grace

Political intrigue! Geneva bands! Africans! Theology! Romance! Hymn singing! Prescription medicine abuse!

Hubby and I saw the new film, Amazing Grace last night. Ordinarily, he suggests a film and I agree, but the story of William Wilberforce and his anti-slavery mission so interests me that I made the suggestion this time. (I’m working on a separate post on the bicentennial of the UK abolition of the slave trade, due out before March 25.)

Having been so sour on Anglicans and Episcopalians, and rueful about the political hegemony of reactionary, bitter and nationalist Christians, it was heartening to see an interdemoninational mix of Christians (“the Claphamites“) take on one of the world’s chief evils by careful planning, patience, branding, style and conviction — and win against the odds. (The only identifiable reference to a Unitarian was of Josiah Wedgwood, the famous potter, who made anti-slavery medallions, an early form of advocacy merchandise.) It was a twin delight to see a faithful man depicted as something as other than a knees-bent pietist or a fanatic. Wilberforce, I should add, is listed in the common of saints in the (US) Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, but so far not of his own Church of England.

But to tell the truth, the writing was a bit thin and the acting uneven, giving at times the impression more of a documentary than a dramatic film. But the costuming, sets and exteriors help suspend disbelief. I would really recommend it for ministers, seminarians, churches classes, or anyone who need to be reminded what a few, dedicated people can do. After all, how many times can you watch An Inconvenient Truth? The film also redeems a hymn that has become wed to personal, inner piety.

Even in a city as large as Washington, Amazing Grace is getting a limited run; our cinema was little bigger than a suburbanite’s living room and even it served double duty with an extended run of Volver. A home viewing on DVD will not diminish the spectacle, and for many might provide the best opportunity. Indeed, I think it deserves a place in a church film library, so buy a copy when available and pass it along. The official site has teaching materials (I’ve not yet reviewed these) anticipating its use as a religious education resource; quite cleverly, too, and in the spirit of the Claphamites’ marketing acumen, you can even get instant messenger icons!

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


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