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12 August 2010 @ 05:08 pm
Amazing Grace  
I shame to write that while neither the worthy subject matter nor the combined prettiness of Ioan Gruffudd and Romola Garai could get me to get over my wariness about Amazing Grace, the discovery that Benedict Cumberbatch was in it (after seeing a trailer on another DVD) sent me straight out to the library--where I found it just on the "new returns" cart, right where I started looking (seriously, it was the second title my eye fell upon). So you see, it was meant to be.

I was wary about this movie for reasons I can't even remember now: possibly I just assumed it was trying to be another Amistad, and I think, too, I was worried that it would wind up being one of those movies about white men's pain instead of, you know, slavery. This didn't come to pass, exactly: it isn't really a movie about slavery, in a way; it's a movie--by the director's own admission--about politics. But that works, because by doing that, I think it therefore avoids the first trap--which would be easy to fall into, probably, because it's a film about William Wilberforce, so it needs to actually be about him, but that would be a lot more problematic if the movie were full of images of suffering slaves.

Even aside from the fact that it manages to avoid a potentially unpleasant scenario, I came away from the film quite impressed. The actors are good: Ioan Gruffudd has that driven idealism thing down pat, and Romola Garai comes across as sparky without being crazily anachronistic--and the love story actually works, which astonishes me. Perhaps I am cynical and have watched too many historical movies that don't make it clear why the characters should be in love in the first place (cough Becoming Jane cough), but William and Barbara's interactions, while being necessarily impressionistic (like the film as a whole--or maybe it's "episodic" I mean), conveyed a sense of real rapport and connection between the two of them. And Benedict Cumberbatch made a very energetic William Pitt, full of fierce intelligence, an intelligence that's also playful, and maybe just a bit dangerous. (Full disclosure: I may have started calling him "Pittsy" partway through the film. I am not exactly objective about Benedict Cumberbatch, apparently.*)

Rufus Sewell is also in this film, bringing his special brand of endearing and slightly crazy, and Ciaran Hinds, and my dear old Nicholas Farrell, and even Stephen Campbell Moore has a small part. So basically, if you've seen any British movies ever, you will probably recognize someone. (There are also some more famous actors, like Michael Gambon, but this is my personal list of people I'm always happy to see when they turn up unexpectedly.)

*This really came out of nowhere. I've seen him in a reasonable number of things, because I watch a lot of PBS, so I first saw him (and JJ Feild!) in To the Ends of the Earth, and eventually everyone has to be in an episode of Miss Marple, and he was just in Small Island as well; and I thought he was absolutely hilarious in Starter for Ten. But I watched the first episode of Sherlock and was a little disappointed. Granted, I watched it in bits and pieces over a few days, so that probably didn't help. But having liked him so much in several other things, I was surprised not to like him more in this, and watching Amazing Grace allowed me to put two and two together: as Sherlock, he's missing that indefinable warmth he's had in everything else. That doesn't necessarily mean that his characters have all been nice, or kind, though sometimes they are. It's more that he always feels present and connected, and Sherlock just isn't--which is the point, probably (he describes himself as a high-functioning sociopath)--but he comes across as a thinking machine, all sharp edges and coldness, more than a grounded person. And so far, Watson hasn't made up the balance. I'm definitely going to give it another go on PBS, since it's not too long a wait, but I might not seek out the other two episodes before then. (Those of you who love it: feel free to tell me why! I am open to being convinced--and I did like it, just not as much as I wanted to.)
fuck this, everybody is constellations now: bob | after the bombs comevega_ofthe_lyre on August 12th, 2010 09:23 pm (UTC)
I am a huge fan of this movie, mostly for the reasons you've said here. As a movie examining the politics and, I guess, more the emotional thrust of Wilberforce's life rather than being directly about the abolitionary movement it works very well, and the stuff that is about the movement itself - how they dealt with Equiano, for instance - seemed, to me, well-handled and clearly well-thought-out. And I loved not only the cast, but especially the rapport and affection between them all; those giddy happy moments where the characters are just allowed to breathe were wonderful.

And Rufus Sewell stole the whole damn show for me, but then, he always does.

On the other hand - I can't really entirely glowing things about its accuracy - Romola Garai's character, especially, was not very much at all like the historical figure. And now that they've made an excellent biopic for Wilberforce, damn, someone's got to make a biopic for Equiano. But that's neither here nor there.)
tempestsarekind: marlowe--he fights crimetempestsarekind on August 12th, 2010 09:40 pm (UTC)
those giddy happy moments where the characters are just allowed to breathe were wonderful

Yes, this! I forgot to mention that in the post, but one of the surprising things about the film was how many funny moments it had, how many little breathing spaces that weren't just about driving the narrative forward, but about establishing relationships.

I can imagine that Romola Garai's character wasn't entirely true-to-life, yes.

And as for Equiano--he's one of those figures about whom I actually feel surprised that there isn't a biopic yet. (Another one is Christopher Marlowe; hence the seemingly random icon.)
fuck this, everybody is constellations now: w | i must becomevega_ofthe_lyre on August 12th, 2010 09:51 pm (UTC)
It's funny - as I was typing that, I was thinking to myself, 'Jesus Christ, why haven't they made a movie of Equiano's life yet?' There's so much power and ambiguity and sheer story to his life, it's criminal that his book fallen into relative obscurity except in academia.

And, oh man, WORD on the Kit Marlowe thing. Five minutes of Rupert Everett drawling in Shakespeare in Love is not enough, thank you!
tempestsarekind: viola readingtempestsarekind on August 12th, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
I don't even know! I'd never heard of Equiano before college, which is just nuts. On the other hand, I'm never quite sure how any biopics actually get made; it seems like the odds are stacked against them, with this attitude that the "average person" doesn't want to watch history or whatever. (This is also my "more historical TV!" rant.)

There are days when I imagine writing some kind of cracked-out conspiracy theory Marlowe biopic, where he faked his own death and ran away to France. I don't know what would actually happen in such a film, though.
litlover12 on August 13th, 2010 12:26 am (UTC)
Sure we know. He'd fall madly in love with a passionate young Frenchwoman with 21st-century ideals. ;-)
the cold genius: authorshipangevin2 on August 13th, 2010 12:59 am (UTC)
And then she'd inspire him to write Shakespeare's plays, and I would stab things.

...not that that is what tempestsarekind would write, as she is a SENSIBLE PERSON, but I could so picture it. Including, nay, especially the stabbing.
litlover12 on August 13th, 2010 01:01 am (UTC)
. . . and Beethoven's sonatas in his spare time. And then I would stab all the things you left unstabbed.

(And sorry, tempestsarekind, I didn't mean this was the biopic you would write! I meant it's the kind of biopic the majority of screenwriters would write.)
tempestsarekind: palm to palm is holy palmers' kisstempestsarekind on August 13th, 2010 07:27 pm (UTC)
Heh, no worries. I got what you meant.
tempestsarekind: the man himselftempestsarekind on August 13th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
I try to be a sensible person, anyway. :) But I can picture this movie too, sadly--because it would explain that pesky little fact that Marlowe and Shakespeare don't really write the same way. He was inspired by love! Very, very, very heterosexual love!
viomisehuntviomisehunt on August 13th, 2010 07:32 am (UTC)
Biography online
tempestsarekind: books and flowerstempestsarekind on August 13th, 2010 07:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Biography online
Thanks for the link!
litlover12 on August 12th, 2010 09:28 pm (UTC)
I love this movie. William Wilberforce was an amazing man, and for once a biopic did its subject justice.
tempestsarekind: henry tilney would SO write fanfictempestsarekind on August 12th, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC)
I watched a biopic and didn't want to wring things in frustration! It is an August miracle!
viomisehuntviomisehunt on August 13th, 2010 07:30 am (UTC)
Just curious, where there any Brits of African descent with major parts in this movie? Of course this movie, from what I have heard is about British Emancipation, the epiphany of a slave trader that lead the composition of Amazing Grace, and finally the debate in Parliament concening slavery which was resolved in the Act of 1833, (although it was conditional freedom with that "Apprenticeship" clause.) Most of the slaves would have lived in the colonies anyway. I recall the hype around this film, but confess I had little interest in going out to see it,--even with Ioan Gruffudd heading the cast- - although I did read about the debate itself, because it was fascinating.
tempestsarekind: very few dates in this historytempestsarekind on August 13th, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
There weren't, no, since Equiano was played by an African singer.

The "epiphany" part is played down, as is the actual composition of "Amazing Grace"; that all happens before the film begins, and is alluded to by Wilberforce. The film itself is about the passing of the Slave Trade Act (1807), and mostly restricts itself to Parliamentary maneuvering.