People will sooner believe a big lie than a little one, noted a WWII-era US intelligence report on Hitler, who famously coined the phrase “the big lie” to describe this very phenomenon. Case in point: the widespread notion of slavery as the special shame of Western, Christian Europe and America. This popular notion exactly reverses the truth.
Throughout human history slavery was widely and uncontroversially practiced on every continent and in practically every culture, from ancient China, India, and Africa to the pre-Colombian Americas. It was only in the Christian world that slavery ever became controversial, that a concept of personal freedom and dignity developed which fostered principled moral resistance to slavery. The Christian West is unique in world history, not for practicing slavery, but for becoming the first society in the world voluntarily to abolish the practice.
Amazing Grace represents a step toward setting the record straight. A rare departure for Walden Media from its stock-in-trade of adapting acclaimed children’s books, Amazing Grace is an inspirational historical biopic celebrating the crusade of English Parliamentarian William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd of Fantastic Four and FF2), a devout Christian, against the slave trade.
Directed by Michael Apted (best known for the acclaimed 7-Up series), Amazing Grace takes a nonlinear approach to the story of Wilberforce’s checkered 18-year campaign to win passage for abolitionist legislation. Outside Parliament, Wilberforce struggles with chronic debilitating colitis and vacillates between devoting his life to politics or religion — an inner debate that draws him, Maria von Trapp–like, willy-nilly into dew-kissed fields for wrestling bouts with God.
Amazing Grace’s best moments are episodes of high showmanship and humor: the chains and shackles placed on the table at a dinner party by dignified ex-slave abolitionist and author Olaudah Equiano (Youssou N’Dour) as he explains the horrific reality of conditions on a slave ship; the wary banter of Wilberforce and kindred spirit — and future bride — Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai); the nautical stunt confronting a crowd of well-heeled gentry with the literal stench of the slave trade; the low-key passage of a stealth bill while a single alert opponent, sensing a hidden agenda, races about trying to round up idly loitering allies. Also, of course, the dramatic red-carpet unrolling of an anti-slavery petition on the Commons floor — and the surprise last-minute signatory.
The film benefits, too, from handsome production values and a top-notch cast, including Benedict Cumberbatch as Wilberforce’s friend and fellow MP (and later PM) William Pitt the Younger, Rufus Sewell as radical abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, and Ciarán Hinds as pro-slavery Lord Tarleton.
At its center, though, is a somewhat underdeveloped, not entirely convincing protagonist. The film’s Wilberforce is a wide-eyed idealist and mystic, quick with well-turned bons mots in Commons give-and-take, but a less canny and strategic thinker than one might hope for in a crusading MP. He’s also one of those indecisive movie heroes who has to keep being told what his mission is by everyone else in the film, from his mentor to his love interest and even his butler.
As fine as the cast is, the dialogue they’re given can be trite and sound-bite‑y, as illustrated by this trailer-ready exchange:
Pitt: “As your Prime Minister, I urge caution.”
Wilberforce: “And as my friend?”
Pitt: “To hell with caution.”
Still, it’s honorable and always watchable. The title, incidentally, reflects the supporting role of John Newton, played with gusto by Albert Finney, a penitent ex-slave ship captain, now a rector and mentor of sorts to Wilberforce as well as the writer of the beloved hymn. (“A wretch like me,” Newton was not afraid to call himself in the original lyrics, with a biographical and theological honesty too direct for the revisionist vandals of hymnody responsible for many missalettes and hymnbooks.)
Not quite amazing, the film is touched by grace nonetheless.
The atheists and nonbelievers in The Case for Christ don’t have horns and tails, or even mustaches for twirling.
Like many popular sensations, from Titanic to Twilight, from Dan Brown to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, The Shack is easy to rip apart if one has a mind to.
Possibly the best and most cinematic sequence in Hillsong – Let Hope Rise is a montage that strikingly captures how the music of the Australian Evangelical church-based praise band Hillsong United touches, and unites, people all around the world.
Greater has three surprises, which is three more than most faith-based films, particularly of the inspirational sports-movie variety.
On paper, and sometimes even on screen, there’s some promise and potential in this remake of Ben-Hur.
The recent beatification of Óscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 until his assassination in 1980, has drawn new attention to the gap between public perception and reality regarding this popular but controverted figure in El Salvador’s turbulent history. For those interested in beginning to understand who Blessed Archbishop Romero really was, the Christopher Award–winning 1989 film Romero, starring Raúl Juliá, isn’t a bad place to start.
Mirroring its populist tale pitting a devout young undergraduate against Kevin Sorbo’s hostile philosophy professor, the faith-based hit indie God’s Not Dead sharply divided enthusiastic faith audiences and scoffing critics.
A faith-based romantic drama with a country music milieu, The Song is couched as a contemporary reimagining of the life of King Solomon, son of David.
I took two minutes to talk about this one, and still got in less than half of what bothered me about it.
After ten years, Jesus is back on the big screen. Was it worth the wait? Son of God: my “Reel Faith” review.
For Greater Glory tells a story of religious freedom and oppression that is far too little known, and that would be important and worthwhile at any time, but is strikingly apropos in our cultural moment.
For Greater Glory in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
Coming on the heels of Fireproof, Courageous is the fourth film from Sherwood Pictures, and it’s another step forward for the church-based film company … While the film’s church-based roots and the tendency toward didactic, schematic storytelling are still in evidence, Courageous is their most ambitious and watchable film to date.
The 13th Day is the best movie ever made about Fátima — the most beautiful and effective, as well as one of the most historically accurate.
For Verástegui — a former boy-band and telenovela heartthrob known to Latino fans as “the Mexican Brad Pitt” — the mission is simple. “Hollywood doesn’t belong to the studios,” he recently told Decent Films. “Hollywood belongs to God. And we need to take it back. And that’s what I’m trying to do, by example first, trying my best every day to be involved in projects that will inspire people to use their talents to do something positive for the world.”
In the end, Bella has something to challenge everyone, pro-life or otherwise. For pro-lifers, the inspiring ending represents a call to love of neighbor. It isn’t enough just to oppose abortion: We are called to love those in need with the love of Christ, potentially at a cost to ourselves. For those who favor abortion, the ending represents a challenge to recognize that life is a beautiful and precious gift even in far from ideal circumstances, and the choice to embrace life, even when it involves great sacrifice, is also beautiful.
Christians lamenting the state of Hollywood sometimes flippantly comment that this or that Bible story “would make a great movie — intrigue, sex, violence, spectacle, etc.” This, though, is not a recipe for a great movie, but for a mediocre one. The story of Esther could certainly be made into a great film. One Night with the King is not that film. In some ways, it’s not even that story.
With fans of its two genres, especially in the Bible Belt, Facing the Giants will doubtless be a success. To reach a broader audience, though, the filmmakers will have to scrap their playbook and learn a whole new set of rules.
“Ordinary girl. Extraordinary soul” is the tagline of Thérèse, Catholic actor-director Leonardo Defilippis’s reverent, uplifting, straightforward biopic of the Little Flower. Of the tagline’s two clauses, the film’s special burden seems to be the first part, “ordinary girl.”
“A good compromise choice” is how one observer describes the 1977 appointment of Oscar Romero (Raul Julia) — a conservative, orthodox, apolitical bishop of a small rural diocese — to the archbishopric of San Salvador. By the time Archbishop Romero’s tempestuous three-year tenure comes to its violent end, “compromise” is a word no one will ever again think of in connection with him.
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My only quarrel with Amazing Grace was a musical one. The Newton poem was not associated with the tune “New Britain” until the late 19th century, and that in America, but was sung to almost any Common Metre tune. Wilberforce’s singing it at the gambling club and the congregation singing it at his wedding to “New Britain” was anachronistic.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.