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Amazing Grace
Amazing Grace
a review by Tom Condon, OP

Film synopsis:

It’s the age of the Great British Empire and William Wilberforceis a newcomer to the world of politics. Just 21 years of age when he enters office, he must learn to operate in a world of skillful deception and cunning one-upmanship in order to attain his unpopular goal: the abolition of slavery.

Many of you may know the story of the beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace.”  It was written by John Newton, a slave ship captain, recounting his dramatic conversion.  Repenting of his way of life, Newton lives the rest of his life in God’s service, haunted by the ghosts of 10,000 Africans he transported to slavery in the late 18th Century.

Newton (played by the great Albert Finney) is a supporting character in the new movie, Amazing Grace:  The William Wilberforce Story.  Newton is better known today than Wilberforce, but Wilberforce’s legacy is no less substantial.  Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) is a young British politician who comes to know Newton and is moved by his story.  Wilberforce’s conversion is multi-faceted:  he has a genuine religious conversion and wants to spend time communing with God in nature.  At the same time, he sees God in his brothers and sisters, opening his house to feed the hungry.  The conversion is also political.  Once Wilberforce learns of the horrors of slavery, he dedicates 20 years of his life to the passage of legislation outlawing Britain’s participation in the slave trade, at great personal cost to him. 

Amazing Grace tells Wilberforce’s story with passion and surprising wit.  It’s rare that such “message” films have a sense of humor, yet this one finds humor in Wilberforce’s life and those with whom he comes into contact.  Amazing Grace is also a love story, telling of the budding courtship between Will and Lucy, who supports his desire for human dignity.  In addition, Grace relates a real story of politics, as Will and his colleagues argue their case before Parliament, as well as behind the scenes.  The film also chronicles Will’s suffering from terrible bouts of colitis, no doubt exacerbated by the stress of his crusade. 

Amazing GraceAmazing Grace has its flaws.  For one, I wanted to hear more of the great hymn!  It is sung once in the film and played beautifully on bagpipes during the closing credits.  But, since it was so central to Wilberforce’s conversion, I wanted to hear more of it, at least hummed occasionally or played in the background.  Secondly, at times I felt a little lost in the political maneuverings, especially at a pivotal moment.  But I followed it well enough to get the point. 

Most importantly, Amazing Grace is a testament to one man’s remarkable dedication to following God’s truth.  Wilberforce will not rest until his work is complete.  Yet, he cannot accomplish his task alone.  Many others are needed all along the way for the passage of the bill.  The film gives witness to the fact that religious conversion does have political ramifications.  This point will hopefully challenge many who believe that religion is purely personal, without any political components.  Thankfully, John Newton and William Wilberforce knew better than that.  200 years after their victory, let’s hope contemporary audiences will understand the implications for today’s political realm.

At the advance screening I attended last fall, I learned that 26 million people around the world are slaves today, more than the number enslaved during Wilberforce’s day!  Most are women and children used in the world wide sex trade.  I pray that the spirit of Wilberforce and Newton will be with the peoples of the world today so that we may act to end this social sin, so clearly opposed to God’s teaching, and restoring all to their dignity as God’s children. 

Tom Condon, OP


((Amazing Grace is a testament to one man’s remarkable dedication to following God’s truth.))


The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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