Sunday, March 18, 2007
2007, in theaters
You should know
We’re going on 24 years of religious ties, here. I know the song. I know the story behind the song. Frankly, I was expecting the movie to be about the story behind the song. It’s not. That turned out to be OK. Even better: since I saw the movie with Brian, I got a crash course in the history and workings of Parliament.
William Wilberforce, a former parishioner and student of John Newton – the man who wrote the hymn, and a former slaver – is a member of Parliament and a devout Christian. However can he both serve God and support his friend’s run for Prime Minister? Gee, I wonder if the fact that his old minister is a staunch abolitionist will have any influence.
Anything else I say about the plot would be a) a spoiler, b) fairly obvious, and c) a matter of historical record, so I’m not going to get into that. Despite all this, I was intrigued by the story. It’s a political movie as much as a morality tale, so many of the characters are more morally ambiguous than you’d expect – like in real life, and especially like in politics – but there’s more that can be done with this. Wilberforce was addicted to laudanum, and it’s brushed off as evidence that he’s a good man! After all, if he didn’t care so much, he wouldn’t have stomach problems, blah blah blah. Then he gives it up cold turkey, survives the DTs, and is never tempted again.
(Aside: Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying drug addiction makes one a bad person. But it can lead to a desperation that we just didn’t see in this film.)
There is a bit of timeline-jumping early on that threw me, and seemed a bit unnecessary, so be wary of that. Also, a few of Wilberforce’s abolitionist friends seem to look similar. Then again, so do the MPs, because there are only so many things you can do with a powdered wig.
Finally, Brian noticed that in one of the flashbacks, Parliament is arguing over the downside of surrendering to the American Revolutionaries -- three years after they already did. An oops moment, to be sure, but I never would have caught it. Furthermore, one of Wilberforce's opponants, the Duke of Clarence, was never an MP -- especially not in the House of Commons.
See it if…
…You like history, politics, or religion. Likewise, avoid it if you hate those things, or if you hate non-linear storytelling. This is a fine film, and my complaints outlined above are pretty much the only ones I had.
The rest of the Internet
The IMDb page.
More on John Newton.
Good reviews at Rotten Tomatoes.
Salon is favorable.
Here's what Wilberforce really looked like.
As to the spiritual aspect, Christianity Today has input.
Chris Beaumont at Film School Rejects liked but didn't love the film.
A review -- complete with historical commentary -- at Blogcritics.