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Katie and I went to see Amazing Grace today. Good film, definitely worth seeing for several reasons:

1) It’s an entertaining, well-made, substantive film in and of itself. The performances are uniformly fantastic with some "great faces," as my mother would say. Standouts for me were Rufus Sewell as Thomas Clarskon and Michael Gambon as Charles Fox, Albert Finney as John Newton, of course. But every part was intriguingly cast, and there were small points that impressed me – William PItt died of liver disease, and over the course of the film, the make-up worn by  Benedict Cumberpatch (yes his real name) very subtley starts to reflect that as you look at him at one point and notice he has the faintest orangish splotches on his face, splotches which are unremarked on but unimstakably there and grow darker and more numerous as the film goes on.

2) The argument, such as it is, that has raged (sort of) since the film’s release is..does the film give Wilberforce’s faith short shrift? Yes and no. Or let’s say no and yes and take them in that order.

No – Wilberforce’s faith is clearly presented as his motivating force.

Yes – But it is a rather vague faith – in God, certainly, but it is a God Wilberforce finds, it seems, primarily in spiderwebs (he was an avid botanist, the film says). We assume he’s Christian, but Christ isn’t mentioned in relationship to Wilberforce, nor is the Anglican Church, specifically, nor are any of the invigorating movements within and outside of Anglicanism that played a part, and once we see that "God" has moved Wilberforce to care about things, there’s nothing more specific than that – what specificially about his form of Christian faith moved him to see slavery as immoral when most established Churchmen of the day were not so moved?

The specifics of Christian faith are far more clearly seen in John Newton, not surpisingly, who (in my mind) utters the most moving line of the film, when, reflecting on his past (as a slave trader, which haunts him) he says, "I see that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great saviour."

The film has the usual historical biopic conventions and techniques of condensing and conflating, which result in scenes that seem to make sense at the time as you’re watching it, but which make you go "huh?" when you stop and actually think about them later. But I suppose that is the nature of the beast, to take what is messy and make it neat.

But all in all a good film, worth seeing especially for young people. I’d really recommend that if you have mature pre-teens and teens, you take them to see this movie. It will give you a lot to talk about – the sins today that are comparable to slavery, social sins which prop up the status quo, sins which no one wants to question because of the financial cost they will bear as a result. The role of a Christian in the world. The struggle to hear one’s call and follow it. Coping with discouragement. And most importantly, to me, in a world in which young people (and all of us) are told that the object of life is to figure out what we’re "good at" and then use that in order to "find happiness" and "be successful," in Wilberforce, we’re presented with another better way –  the challenge and joy of discerning the gifts God has given us, looking at the world around us, and, supported by others, discerning how God wants us to use those gifts to serve Him in this broken world….

…that’s another mode of career counseling that young people need to see, attractively, believably and powerfully presented, and Amazing Grace does just that.

(In case you didn’t see it, a previous post on Wilberforce’s children, all of whom except one eventually converted to Catholicism, and one of whom is buried in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome)

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