For those who have always wondered what happens when an 18th-century idealist works to convince Parliament to abolish slavery, but were too afraid to ask, “Amazing Grace” answers quite conclusively: a whole lot of boring stuff.
The movie poster for “Amazing Grace” claims, “Behind the song you love is a story you will never forget,” although the connection between the story and the song is never quite made clear, beyond the fact that several characters enjoy singing it with tears welling in their eyes.
Rather than the story behind the song you love, “Grace” appears to be about abolitionist William Wilberforce, played by Ioan Gruffudd, who — as was the case with his role as Mr. Fantastic in “Fantastic 4” — is a better actor than the material he is given. Wilberforce begins the movie suffering from insomnia, sickness and disillusionment about Parliament (in that order). The movie proceeds to flashback 15 years to show how he ended up in this sorry state: It turns out Wilberforce was a rich young man who was “found” by God and could not decide whether he wanted to be a minister or a politician. One day, a creepy old lady brings him the chains slaves are bound in, and Wilberforce discovers his life mission, which is to combine the work of God with the political realm. For the rest of the movie, whenever a black person is on screen or mentioned, sad violins play in the background.
Essentially, the point of the movie appears to be to convince the viewer that slavery is, indeed, not a good thing. Lengthy monologues are devoted to persuading people that slaves are treated horribly, somehow suggesting that the 21st-century audience still needs to be convinced. As one of the other two people in the theater said on the way out, it was like a sixth-grade social studies class, except you already know everything, and it lasts two hours.
To add insult to injury, each of these speeches is terribly written — as is the rest of the movie. But this should not surprise an experienced IMDber, as writer Steven Knight is also credited with penning episodes of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?”
I will risk spoiling the ending by mentioning that the movie ends with, of all the exciting possibilities, Wilberforce discovering a legal loophole to exploit. And slavery eventually ends!
To enjoy “Amazing Grace” would take a fascination with banal political proceedings, or perhaps, extreme levels of intoxication. To this end, I present the rules to the soon-to-be-wildly-popular-upon-DVD-release, “Amazing Grace Drinking Game.”
Take a drink each time:
– A character insults another character in a rhyming couplet, eliciting uproarious laughter (for example, while playing cards, “You are brave at the house, but, at the table, a mouse”);
– Wilberforce and his love interest, Barbara, look at each other seductively while discussing the difficulties of the abolition movement;
– A character inexplicably quotes “Amazing Grace” in a clumsy attempt to relate meaningfully to the plot (like when a blind character realizes slavery is bad and says, “I once was blind, but now I see”);
– Wilberforce, while looking in the mirror, has a vision of a black person in an awkward pose looking sad (this actually only happens once, but it’s really funny);
– A character makes an analogy that doesn’t make sense (which happens more often than one would think possible: “Slavery is like arsenic — each time you see it, it doubles the amount,” or, as a slave, “Your life is a thread — it either breaks, or it doesn’t break”);
– Wilberforce gives a beggar some change, and the beggar looks at him with admiration and great respect;
– The House of Commons is portrayed as an Irish Pub (you’ll get at least 25 drinks out of this one);
– Wilberforce says something stupid in Parliament (“If he keeps on scraping at he bottom of the barrel for objections, I fear he will get splinters under his fingernails!”);
– You confuse all the male characters with one another.
So, by following these simple rules, you perhaps may actually enjoy “Amazing Grace.” But probably not.