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One man's role in the long battle to outlaw slavery in the United Kingdom sets the stage for this historical drama from director Michael Apted. In 1784, 21-year-old William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) was elected to the British House of Commons, and soon established himself as a politician with a conscience. Several years later, his close friend William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch) became prime minister, and together they made a bold plan to introduce a bill banning slavery before the English legislature. Wilberforce was ...


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Aug 5, 2008

Mostly Accurate

This movie was released to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in England. It is about William Wilberforce, a politician who became a Christian. He wondered whether or not to stay in politics, but was persuaded to by his friend, John Newton. Newton was a former Captain of a slave ship, who was graciously converted by God. He wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace, among others. It is his best known hymn. When you read his biography, you see what he means when he says, "Amazing grace...that saved a wretch like me." He wasn't exaggerating.
The real William Wilberforce was a small, diminutive man, but of course, for the movie they chose a tall, handsome actor to play him.
Although I love to see movies done about famous Christians, I find they don't always stick to the real story.
First, though, some things that were accurate. Wilberforce was a Calvinist. When he was converted and someone mentioned that he had found God, he remarked, "I believe God found me."
He was good friends with John Newton and was much encouraged by him. His good friend, William Pitt, became Prime Minister. He worked most of his life to rid England of slavery, against much opposition and apathy. He did this because of his beliefs. He did suffer from bowel disease and had great pain. He did see slavery abolished before he died, although I think he was close to death at the time.
However, many facts were misrepresented. When his friend, William Pitt lay dying, and said to him, "William, I wish I had your faith," I doubt he would have just stared mutely at him, as he did in the movie. Wilberforce was a strong Christian and he would have shared his faith.
Most surprisingly in the movie, was the portrayal of John Newton. If there was ever a man who loved to prclaim the joy he found in the assurance of forgiven sins, it was Newton. If ever a man knew he could do nothing to earn his salvation and that it was all due to the grace of God, it was Newton. Read his biography, his hymns, or his sermons. He is nothing like the way he was portrayed in the movie. He was happily married to Polly. He wore regular clothes and a powdered wig and lived with his family.
In the movie, they show him barefoot, without a wig, wearing rags, mopping the floor of the church, giving the impression that he lived there and was trying to atone for his sins. He talks in the movie about being "a monk" and living with thousands of "ghosts" who continued to haunt him. When Wilberforce reminds him of his hymn, he asks, "Did I write that?" Again, such a Roman Catholic view from a cheerful Protestant, I could not believe. And finally, when in the movie, he writes about his days on a slave ship, he feels exorcised of his ghosts, as if this work freed him. Nonesense! John Newton was a wretch. True. He was a wicked man. But once he was converted, he did not try to add to the work of Christ with his own works.
The best line in the movie was by Newton, when he said, "I don't know much. But I know two things: I am a very great sinner, but Christ is a very great Saviour."
In the movie theatre, someone said, "Amen!"

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