Thanks for sending the review, it was very interesting. To me, it sounds like the biggest beef the writer has is that the movie isn’t the one he wanted it to be. He reminds me of someone who knows so much about the subject matter that he nitpicks every deviation from absolute historical accuracy. Amazing Grace is not a documentary. No doubt it occasionally distorts and compresses the facts in order to tell a good story. That’s what movies do. Going in, I was ignorant about this period in British politics. I came out wanting to know much more about Wilberforce, and even more about the secondary characters in the film. That was why I bought Metaxis’ book, which the reviewer grudgingly compliments in one of his footnotes.
The complaint about the marketing campaign’s gross distortions of John Newton’s conversion don’t belong in a serious movie review. John Newton was the one character I already knew something about so I, too, would have dismissed the advance publicity as a cheap PR ploy by a third-rate hack writer. The language employed does suggest that the studio attempted to promote the film to Christian groups the same way that Mel Gibson so successfully sold his movie about Jesus’ execution. Perhaps the reviewer has a problem with the gimmicks used to push Amazing Grace through religious channels, but if we judged all movies by their previews and posters, our judgments would be sorely skewed and nearly always inaccurate. I found Albert Finney’s performance as Newton fascinating and true to the spirit of the famous song he wrote (by which the movie is titled).
The reviewer also complained about Wilberforce’s apparently misogynist views that women were to be obedient and silent (a stereotypical fundamentalist view that is largely ignorant of real Biblical females), based on part of a single letter written much later in his life. However, the review and the movie and the book all mention his close friendship with Hannah More, a most-liberated woman of her day. So which was it? Seems to me that the reviewer has fallen into the common trap of trying to examine and pass judgment on the behaviors and motivations of historical characters based on current sensibilities.
I did not know anything about who financed Amazing Grace (and Ray and Chronicles of Narnia). The reviewer’s suggestions as to why Philip Anschutz wanted this movie made are completely speculative. The fact that this filthy-rich tycoon admires Wilberforce, along with a lot of right-wing politicians named in the review, seems to be the real reason the reviewer is so antagonistic towards Wilberforce. His hostility is misdirected; the dead cannot choose their future admirers. If it was Anschutz’s intent to finance a movie that would gently remind people that only the wealthiest Republicans are suited to govern, then he failed miserably.
To me, Amazing Grace was a clarion call to defy the establishment no matter what it costs or how long it takes, hardly a Republican theme. Throughout the background of the movie is a government in turmoil because of a failed war in a faraway land. Hardly something you’d want to remind your audience of if the movie is nothing but a bit of clever propaganda. That Wilberforce did not take on every cause the reviewer is passionate about is no excuse to diminish what he did accomplish. And that brings me full circle to what I think the reviewer was most upset about. Whether good or bad, Amazing Grace was not the movie he wanted it to be.