- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘Amazing Grace’

Rating: PG for thematic material involving slavery, and some language.

Common Sense Media: Pause. For ages 10 and older.

*** (out of five stars)

Running time: 111 minutes

Common Sense review: Sober and reverential, “Amazing Grace” follows the career of early British abolitionist and evangelical Christian William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd). As the film begins, Wilberforce is dismayed by England’s moral decline and thinks he might be better suited for religion than politics. Already renowned for his work within the abolitionist movement, he first appears commanding a mud-covered knave to stop beating his horse. Wilberforce’s pained face shows his physical capacity for empathy, a theme that comes up repeatedly in the film.

A series of flashbacks shows how Wilberforce earned his reputation. As young, eager politicians, Wilberforce and his best friend, future prime minister William Pitt the Younger (Benedict Cumberbatch), are faced with evidence of the slave trade — torture appliances and stories shared by former slave Olaudah Equiano (Youssou N’Dour).

The two Williams decide that they must change things through their work in Parliament. Their opponents are unconditionally malevolent, especially the Duke of Clarence (Toby Jones), who is introduced as he instructs an underling to fetch his slave — he wants to use his “property” to up the ante in a card game. (He uses a derogatory and offensive word to describe black people.)

Wilberforce’s visible horror at this gesture soon turns into inspiration: He decides to make his enemies in government see the evils they’re perpetuating.

• Common Sense note: Parents need to know that most children probably won’t be interested in this slow-moving historical drama, which focuses on intellectual, philosophical, political and spiritual matters. A horse is cruelly beaten in an early scene. Later, both a former slave and a former slave-ship captain describe slavery in direct, no-holds-barred language. Flashbacks and dream sequences also involve slavery.

Families can discuss how Wilberforce connects his religious calling with his political career. How is his work inspired by his faith? What is the significance of the song “Amazing Grace,” both for the early (and lengthy) abolitionist movement, and, later, during the civil rights movement in the United States?

Do you think the politicians Wilberforce was up against liked slavery? If not, why did they continue to support the practice?

Sexual content: Wilberforce dreams of a scene in which fully clothed couples embrace and cavort in a theater; minor kissing between Wilberforce and Barbara; she shows cleavage.

Language alert: An overtly “bad” character uses a derogatory word for black people; the rest of the profanity is milder.

Violence alert: In the first scene, two men beat a horse (Wilberforce stops them); much discussion of slavery and physical abuse; Equiano shows a brand on his chest; metal torture and restraint devices inspire Wilberforce to work harder at abolition; a flashback scene shows a child knocked by an explosion; Wilberforce and others describe or imagine slaves in chains and under duress. Wilberforce’s poor health leads to some tense scenes.

Social-behavior alert: Wilberforce is a good man struggling to abolish slavery; his political opponents describe slavery as “good business” even though the film repeatedly demonstrates the dehumanization and violence such “business” entails. Scenes show political wrangling and deal-making; pipe smoking; social drinking. (Wilberforce disparages drinking as a sign of low morals.) Wilberforce takes an opium-based medicine (laudanum) as he suffers from colitis.

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