It is so wonderful when a movie comes out that is based on actual facts and honors a person who, despite his intense religious convictions, was a man of peace.
We tend to glorify men of violence, as heroes, in our literature and movies more often than the men of peace. Alexander the Great, Julius Cesar and Napoleon were violent men who carved a name for themselves in the annals of history. While we are at it, let us not forget that Hitler and Stalin are still popular as subjects of movies, books, articles and TV specials.
Contrast that with Mother Teresas and Albert Schweitzers of the world. Think of Nelson Mandela who was incarcerated for over a quarter of a century, under harsh conditions, by White South Africans and still he came out as champion of peace and coexistence. Many nuns volunteered to look after lepers in Asia and scores were crucified by the Japanese in World War II and later by the forerunners of the Viet Cong in the fifties. Nobody knows who they were or when they met their untimely end.
William Wilberforce was one of those rare breed of men, who come along once or twice in a generation, to take a stand against all odds and make a difference to the world.
My father had a large library of books. I started browsing through his books as soon as I was able to read. One of the stories was about William Wilberforce. I read the story of Wilberforce’s long fight to end the evil practice of slavery when I was but a young boy. I was so impressed by that I thought every body else knew about him also. Alas, that was not so. But, Michael Apted, the director has made a wonderful film to remedy that ignorance.
Wilberforce was a member of parliament who was dedicated to abolishing the trade of slavery. At that time, the British merchant class was not directly involved in slavery. They financed the ships, the crew and the thugs who would stealthily attack peaceful African villages in the middle of the night and kidnap young men and women for sale in America. The Arabs did a similar trade in East Africa. Wilberforce soon realized that unless you outlawed the ships that carried this repulsive trade, you could not stop the trade itself.
It took him almost forty years to achieve his goal. During that time he was ridiculed as a radical, a fanatic and even an enemy sympathizer (The enemy being the French at the time.)
He did not stop and even after he won his first victory of banning the slave ships, he pushed for legislation to emancipate and free the slaves in all of the British Empire. He died one day before the bill to free all the British slaves passed the House of Commons in Britain (1833.) It took another 30 years before the United States issued the declaration of emancipation. Ironic to note that if US had remained part of the British Empire, several generations of American slaves would have lived their lives as free men thirty years earlier.
The English director, Michael Apted has been around for quite some time. He started his career directing English Soap Operas and has, in fact, continued to be a TV director more than a movie director. This movie is probably his best legacy in a long career of TV specials and B movies. Through a series of flashbacks, he tells the story of Wilberforce’s long and tedious struggle to champion the anti slavery cause. The movie also pays tribute to Thomas Clarkson, played by Rufus Sewell, who was the man who kept Wilberforce inspired and motivated throughout that long period of being the odd man out in the Parliament.
The Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce delivers a moving performance of a man possessed by an inner passion for justice. Romala Garai is too good looking to have been the wife of a Eighteenth Century member of parliament! I had never been a fan of Albert Finney before. He was too common and unsophisticated. Yet here, as John Newton, he acts wonderfully as a repentant slaver who is slowly going blind and is doing his darnest to remedy his past evil deeds. One must not forget Michael Gambon as Lord Charles Fox and Benedict Cumberbatch as Pitt the Younger. Great performances by both of them.
I would like to recommend this movie for everyone to see. It is almost two hours long and may seem a little slow at times. But, it is worth the price of the ticket and the expense of your time. I feel that it should be considered as required viewing at high schools. Our children, who are brought up on a diet of violence and greed, should see the evils of slavery and what ignorance and indifference could do to men who are otherwise morally above reproach.
Unless we defend the rights of all, we may not have any rights of our own.
Please see this movie and take your children to see it. They should see how our ancestors kidnapped innocent men and women, separated them from their families, imprisoned them in boxes which were not much bigger than a coffin and transported, flat on their backs, without any regard for their dignity or their health for over three weeks across the Atlantic. The lucky ones died during the trip. The unlucky ones survived only to be sold into a life of slavery to the highest bidder in some town in the South. It is sad that after over 150 years, slavery still exists in different forms in our world.
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