Amazing Grace


I recently saw Amazing Grace, a passionate (and romantic) film which does a nice job of turning the story of William Wilberforce’s late 18th century fight against the British slave trade into an entertaining movie with a beginning, middle, and end.

The film is by no means perfect. To turn Wilberforce’s struggle into a nice plot arc, there’s a lot of jumping forward and backward in time, which confuses some viewers.

There are also some definite alterations to historical fact.

These, of course, are likely to be met with the same reception they always get — some people will care more, some less, and some not at all. Some will say why bother at all it you’re not going to do it right? Some will mind the costume errors but not the other changes, and some will mind everything but the costume errors.

Overall, I really liked the movie.


To start with: the cast! Oh, what a cast. We have Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce: charismatic, dogged, brooding. (First picture.)

We have Ciaran Hinds as Banastre Tarleton: angry, snide, sharply intelligent. (Second picture).

And because we can never have too many handsome, dark-haired actors, we also get Rufus Sewell as rebellious anti-slavery crusader Thomas Clarkson. (Third picture.)

And — yes! Albert Finney (fourth picture), as John Newton, who wrote the famous hymn. (Yes, who’d have pictured Tom Jones grown up so anguished?)

Toby Jones plays the Duke of Clarence, the naval son of King George III (and later King William IV) as a clever and witty bon vivant.

And Michael Gambon plays Fox (fifth picture).

And for true Regency-fan coincidence (yes, you heard it here first! A Risky exclusive bon mot!), Wilberforce’s cousin Thornton is played by Nicholas Farrell…and Thornton’s wife is played by Sylvestra Le Touzel.

There, isn’t that amazing???? 🙂 (Just curious — is there anyone here as movie-obsessed as I, who sees something odd there?)

Oh, okay, I’ll out with it. In the (really quite boring) 1983 BBC version of Mansfield Park, Nicholas Farrell played Edmund Bertram, and Sylvestra Le Touzel played Fanny Price.

So these two actors played Fanny and Edmund falling in love in 1983, and they play a married couple here. Wonder if they had fun reminiscing?

As I said, I really loved the film. I loved its color, and commitment, and intensity. I loved that we saw sides of this period that we too seldom see. (The scenes in Parliament were all splendid.) And I loved the actors.

And though I don’t have a picture of her here, I liked Romola Garai’s performance as Wilberforce’s love interest quite a lot. Her character is intelligent, forthright, articulate, and Garai carries off both the dramatic bits and the lighter moments equally well.

As for the historical changes I mentioned above…I have mixed feelings here. They mucked about a bit with costumes and hair (as is usual), and though I noticed some of it, it didn’t much bother me.

What did bother me rather more was that Pitt and Wilberforce were sitting in the House of Commons together with the Duke of Clarence and “Lord” Tarleton. Yeah, just weird. And even weirder — the real Tarleton was never in his life a peer anyway! Years after the end of the movie, he was made a baronet — still not a peer, of course! But throughout the movie (and on the official movie website), he is consistently referred to as “Lord Tarleton.” And I really can’t think of a single good reason why. (I have thought of one bad reason… Aristocrats are by definition selfish and evil, so they supported the slave trade, so Tarleton had to be made a peer…???)

So… Have you seen the movie? Do you intend to?

Which actors or actresses in it would most tempt you to see it? Or would the setting or the subject most convince you to take the plunge?

All comments welcome!

Cara
Cara King, author of My Lady Gamester and movie fanatic

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

Where did you see them muck about with the costumes? They looked pretty damn good to me. And the hair was spot on for the most part, IMO. This is one of the more accurate things I’ve seem come out in ages (esp love the powder line about the edge of the faces and the fact that the wigs are CORRECTLY treated as hats).

The only thing that jarred me was the fact that they didn’t use the real Pump Room in Bath. Wonder why they couldn’t get in?

Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

I have thought of one bad reason… Aristocrats are by definition selfish and evil, so they supported the slave trade, so Tarleton had to be made a peer…???

I doubt it’s anything so malicious as that–IME botched titles and forms of address are the single most common error in fiction set in the British 18th and 19th centuries. I see it all the time, even in otherwise lovingly researched projects, with British authors and well as Americans. It puzzles me, since it’s very easily researched. I mean, I wish everything I need to know for my latest project could be so easily googled–the writing would go a lot faster! But still, I see it all the time.

Cara King
15 years ago

Kalen, are you telling me the clothes that Romola Garai wore were correct for 1797? I was certain that empire gowns had come in in 1795, but she (an unmarried young lady) was constantly wearing brightly colors satins in cuts that looked to me to be from several years earlier than 1797.

Cara

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

I loved, loved, loved the movie. And except for the group of teenage kids sitting behind us (who giggled and scoffed throughout the movie–what was up with that?), the rest of the theater sat is awed silence through the end of the credits. And then they applauded. That silent reverence was just the right mood for a stirring movie. The entire cast was superb, but it was Ioan Gruffudd who stirred up the most emotional response. Even now, I can feel it all roiling inside me. WOW!

Keira-who’d-like-to-change-her-last-name-to-Wilberforce-kthx

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

I’m longing to see this film because Adam Hochschild’s amazing book Bury The Chains was my inspiration for my book, Forbidden Shores (Signet Eclipse, Oct. 2007, blatant self promotion, writing as Jane Lockwood). My editor somehow thought that a Caribbean island was a sexier setting than earnest Quakers collecting signatures for petitions in bad weather, though.
I’ll be blogging about the abolitionist movement on Thursday.
One thing about the movie, tho–Wilberforce was about five feet tall and looked like an elf, not like the strapping Mr. Gruffudd. Hollywood speaks.

Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

OK, I haven’t seen the movie yet…but Ioan Gruffudd is just LOVELY. And I swear he was made to play roles from this era. The clothes, the hair, all of it, it just looks right on him.

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

Do you guys know when the DVD is going to be out?

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

Okay, you’ve convinced me (not that I needed much convincing..)I’ll take a pause in seeing 300 to fit Amazing Grace into my schedule. Hope it stays in theatres long enough! I can’t go this week.

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

Round gowns have started to come in specifically the Chemise gown), but are by no means yet the most common, or only, style. She might have been styled a few years early (more like 1790-1793) but that’s an awfully tiny quibble (esp. when the gowns are amazing). And you’re assuming that she’s wealthy enough and fashionable enough to be a la mode. Was she? I’ll admit I have no idea. It’s still a million times better than the most recent P&P (forty year spread!). And the gowns progress correctly. She starts as a woman of the 18th century and becomes one of the Regency. I thought it looked marvelous.

I did wonder about what was up with Parliament, though. Proving that I know next to nothing about it: Did the House of Lords and the House of Commons meet in a single chamber? I had thought they had separate chambers, but the film shows them all jumbled together. Anyone?

Cara King
15 years ago

Well, Kalen, I did say that the costumes didn’t bother me!

The House of Commons and the House of Lords did indeed meet separately — just like the Senate and the House!

House of Commons

House of Lords

Cara

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

Glad to know I’m not crazy. I couldn’t figure out why all the lords and elected MPs were sharing a chamber (guess it’s more “dramatic”).

Amanda McCabe
15 years ago

I am way behind on my moviegoing–I must see this one, plus 300! I wonder if I could fit both of them in this weekend? 🙂

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

That Clarenden fellow bothered me, too. And I just couldn’t figure out what was going on. First I thought that it was the House of Lords. But no, they were talking of MPs and that would mean the House of Commons.

Thanks for clearing that confusion up. Creative license. Who’d’ve thunk!

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

Amanda, are you planning to see the movies back-to-back or before and after your dance class? 🙂

Manuelita
15 years ago

Amazing Grace sounds like a great movie. My 16 year old daughter saw it with friends. When asked how she liked it she just said, “It was ok”. She’s not really into period movies and only saw it because that’s what was chosen by the group. Alas, I will have to wait until it comes out on dvd. I’m off to add it to my NetFlix Save queue. Thanks for the great pictures, Cara!

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

I think the House of Commons and the House of Lords have always met separately, and even to the point where members of one house aren’t allowed to even be present in the other. I can’t find a reference to prove that, so perhaps someone can help out, but that’s what I remember.

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

How would it be if Ioan Gruffudd were to star in a Jane Eyre movie? Could he top Toby Stephens’ Rochester?

Cara King
15 years ago

Rob, I do believe that after the English Civil War, the monarch was not allowed to enter the House of Commons without express invitation, or something like that. (Charles had marched into the Commons with armed men to arrest some MPs, a move oddly not popular with Parliament.) I don’t know about peers.

Keira, I confess I don’t really picture Gruffudd as Rochester… Though you never can tell. (I was aghast at the idea of William Hurt, but I ended up thinking he was pretty good.)

You know what? He’d make a nice Mr. Tilney. 🙂

Or here’s an idea — the Scarlet Pimpernel! I’d love to see him play both sides of Percy. 🙂

Cara

Todd
15 years ago

Kalen wrote:

She might have been styled a few years early (more like 1790-1793) but that’s an awfully tiny quibble (esp. when the gowns are amazing). And you’re assuming that she’s wealthy enough and fashionable enough to be a la mode. Was she? I’ll admit I have no idea.

While I have no idea what the movie-makers intended, the historical woman was just 20 years old in 1797, and the daughter of a wealthy banker. So it seems quite unlikely that she would be wearing gowns from several years before, and reasonably likely that she’d be up with current fashion.

Of course, they have Tarleton in Parliament in 1782, as well, when he was still in the army. He wasn’t actually elected until 1790. So exact accuracy may not have been their goal.

One thing apparently is historically accurate: Wilberforce proposed to Barbara two weeks after they met for the first time.

My admiration for Wilberforce is unbounded! Especially when he made such a brilliant Parliamentary career after all those years at sea in the Royal Navy!

Todd-who-kept-waiting-for-him-to-stretch-and-wrap-himself-around-things

Elena Greene
15 years ago

I hope to see this one soon. I am a bit disappointed about the historical liberties. I’m not normally a purist and not fanatical about details, but when a film purports to show real people and events I think those should be done as accurately as possible. It won’t stop me seeing it, though.

Keira, I like Gruffud but I’m with Cara on this. He’s too handsome for Rochester.

Mina
15 years ago

I thought this was an exceptional movie. I was surprised how much of the history and how many of the people I didn’t know. I came out of that movie & put about half a dozen biographies on my wishlist. 🙂

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

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