Friday, February 14, 2014

"Amazing Grace" with Ioan Gruffudd and Albert Finney (2006)

Ioan Gruffudd is outstanding in his portrayal of William Wilberforce, the iconic British statesman whose tireless efforts would end the slave trade in all of the British colonies. Albert Finney; plays former ship’s Captain John Newton;  who has turned to life as a Priest in order to assuage the guilt having transported 20,000 human beings into slavery. That guilt would haunt him for the rest of his life. He also wrote the timeless hymn “Amazing Grace.” Together, the two give stellar performances in this unforgettable film.

Wilberforce is a young man of privilege who, as the youngest Member of Parliament at the time, would have slavery abolished in all of the English territories and possessions. But he is in for a long hard struggle; a struggle which eventually costs him both his health and a good bit of his sanity. He must fight the moneyed interests who ply the slave trade and build the ships which transport that cargo.

The scenes in Parliament are well documented exchanges of opinion between those who would uphold the practice of slavery and those who would like to see it gone forever. It is well to note that this film takes place in the period from the late 1700’s through 1833 when the law banning slavery for good was finally enacted. Wilberforce, however, didn’t live to see it put into practice. His tireless efforts to achieve that goal resulted in his death in 1834 just as the law he had championed for so long was taking effect.

This is a superb film, one that is as gripping as Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” The direction is taut, the writing distinguished and the acting flawless. The only criticism that I can find with this movie is that it might leave some with the impression that Wilberforce singlehandedly put an end to the slave trade in 1833. In truth though, the slave practice was halted on English soil in 1772 by Lord Mansfield.

The full story of slavery’s abolition in Britain involves a slave named James Somerset and an English Justice named Lord Mansfield. It is one of the most captivating stories ever told concerning the abolition of slavery, and I would be remiss if I did not recount it briefly here. Not only did it lead to the abolishment of the practice on the English island in 1772; it did so while the American colonies were fighting for their own freedom, which did not include the slaves.

James Somerset was owned by Charles Stewart, an English customs official who made the mistake of bringing his servant with him on his return to England. Once there Somerset escaped for almost 2 months, hiding in the slums of London. When he was captured he was slated to be shipped to Jamaica, and a slow, sure death in the sugar fields.
Only a petition by 3 persons claiming to be Somerset’s “godparents” was Somerset able to obtain a hearing in front of Lord Mansfield, the chief jurist in England at the time. He found that Somerset was a free man by virtue of the fact that he could find nothing in English law that upheld the practice of slavery.

But, to dodge the threat of economic ruin in England’s colonies, he found that slavery was only disallowed on the main island of Britain, and was to continue in all of her possessions, commonwealths and colonies. But, without Lord Mansfield’s decision 60 years earlier, there would have been no William Wilberforce to end the practice for good in all the British Empire.

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Sarah is 27 years old today. She's also stuck in Washington, D.C. for her birthday! This picture was taken in 1989 at our house in Maryland.  Sarah's grown up; and the sled is long gone; but I still have that fur lined hood to keep me warm. Happy Birthday Sarah, stay warm!

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