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AMAZING GRACE: DVD

SYNOPSIS:
William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd ) is born into the age of the Great British Empire. A good friend of England's youngest Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger (Benedict Cumberbatch), Wilberforce, elected to the House of Commons at 21, and entrusted by Pitt with the cause for the Abolition of Slavery. Wilberforce finds himself torn between his rising career and his desire to give it all up for a life of spirituality. He seeks the advice of friend and mentor John Newton (Albert Finney), a former slave trader now turned to the Church seeking redemption. Inspired by Newton, Wilberforce becomes the champion of the abolition movement, but finds his Parliamentary colleagues disinterested - or worse, tied to the slave trade by self interest and greed. Year after year his Bill fails.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I've learnt a few interesting things from this film, including the origins of the song whose title is also the title of the film. The words were written by a reformed slave trader, John Newton (Albert Finney), who is forever haunted by the ghosts of 20,000 slaves who boarded his ships over the years. Driven by well researched material in Steven Knight's screenplay, Michael Apted keeps the focus on Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) so that the film is less a period drama than a biography. But the cause for which Wilberforce is fighting is such a powerful element that the film is also like a political thriller.

Apted underlines the historical tensions with what was also a generational battle, fought between the young men in Parliament - Wilberforce and Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch) are both under 30 - and the old establishment figures, like Lord Tarleton (Ciaran Hinds), Lord Fox (Michael Gambon) and Duke of Clarence (Toby Jones). That Apted has cast well is beyond question: the older cast represent some of the cream of English actors, and the younger ones also deliver terrific performances. My favourite is Benedict Cumberbatch, whose unique face and minimalist yet powerful performance stands out as the young Prime Minister in traumatic times, together with Albert Finney's saddened Newton, a figure of tragic proportions. I like Rufus Sewell as the somewhat bohemian activist Thomas Clarkson, and Gruffud's intelligent, driven -if rather tortured - Wilberforce is memorable.

The story is set in its historical context, with the French Revolution around the corner, its implications for Britain's ruling class an ominous cloud. The English distrust of the Americans and their sense of global dominance are all sensed in the film without the need for narrative intervention. The characters at the centre, including Barbara (Romola Garai) who later becomes Mrs Wilberforce, are well drawn and accessible.

There are flaws, though: the opening scene of Wilberforce stopping his carriage to admonish two men beating a tired horse seems laboured, and some of the scenes in Parliament are forced. But with its 18th century ambiance, the film looks as authentic as you'd expect from modern filmmaking, including the two major port scenes, shot at The Chatham Historic Dockyard.

DVD special features include director's commentary, featurette, music video, B-roll footage, trailer plus cast and crew interviews.

Published December 26, 2007



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

AMAZING GRACE: DVD (PG)
(UK, 2006)

CAST: Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Albert Finney, Sir Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell, Benedict Cumberbatch, Youssou N'Dour, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Nicholas Farrell, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Jeremy Swift, Bill Paterson, Nicholas Day

PRODUCER: Patricia Heaton, David Hunt, Terrence Malick, Edward R. Pressman, Ken Wales

DIRECTOR: Michael Apted

SCRIPT: Steven Knight

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Remi Adefarasin

EDITOR: Rick Shaine

MUSIC: David Arnold

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Charles Wood

RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 26, 2007

PRESENTATION: Widescreen

SPECIAL FEATURES: Director's commentary, featurette, music video, cast and crew interviews, b-roll footage, trailers

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Madman

DVD RELEASE: December 27, 2007







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