I love bio-pics! So consequently I was very excited about going to see this film. And for good reason; It has great Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd (apparently pronounced Yo-an Griffith), plus many other great British actors, rooms full of guys with funny wigs and the movie tells the story of how one man tried to right one of history’s greatest wrongs.
William Wilberforce was a famous abolitionist who was responsible for outlawing the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807. The film begins with Wilberforce being severely ill and troubled by his current failure of his 15-year campaign to abolish slavery. We see a series of flashbacks where he retells the story of how he got to where he is now. The film continues on through Wilberforce’s marriage and his success in passing his bill in 1807. The characters are built up in a way that still reminds you they are historically real but at the same time not forfeiting emotional depth. Albert Finney is excellent as John Newton, the former slave ship captain and writer of the hymn the film is named after.
One of the most memorable things however is learning how horrific slave trafficking actually was: 600 men, women and children below decks on one ship, with less than three feet of space each, pretty much no food or water and less than half of those would be likely to survive the trip. My one criticism would be the fact that nothing was shown from a former slave’s point of view. Much of the film’s focus was on the politics of the situation rather than the reality of it for these people. But with that aside the film is great, the story is told well, the insights are heart wrenching and just so you know – it’s not at all ‘preachy’.