I’ve just arrived home from seeing the new Ioan Gruffudd movie “Amazing Grace”. The story looks at the incredible 17-year battle of legendary British Politician William Wilberforce. It was an inspirational performance from the Fantastic Four’s “Mr Fantastic” that showed depth beyond his current comic book character portrayal. Through the eyes of a sick and tiring man, we saw the plight of slavery, the deception of a class system and the determination of idealism worth fighting for.
One lady who attended the screening with us said she hoped there were no men crying in the movie as this would surely be the trigger for a tearful experience. She, like I cried at numerous moments, steps along this journey of understanding. The life of William Wilberforce was dedicated to the abolition of slavery as the British economy appeared to depend on its African slaves. Men, women and children were being taken to work the British-owned sugar cane and coffee plantations in the West Indies.
What is lost in the previous statement is that the fight was not merely against the dehumanising of human life by enforced slave labour but also the ‘cost of life‘ which was deemed acceptable. Each slave ship would see half to two-thirds of each ‘shipload’ of human cargo lost in death through the course of a three to four-week voyage from the ivory coast of Africa. The life of each captured slave was held in the hold of the ship standing in an area the size of an upright coffin where waste and death hung putrid in the air. Take note that each slave was truly clapped in irons, locked into a passage of death so that there was no opportunity to jump ship to possible freedom.
A typical failing of the human race was shared by the English aristocracy of the time as they enjoyed a life of ignorance, believing what was out of sight was acceptable for the cause of filling the King’s coffers through expanding the British empire, a cause that was driven both politically and for the business of making money. Now the context of Wilberforce’s fight over 20 years also encompassed the tensions of the British struggle with the US, as an emerging nation fighting for independence. As well there was the closer-to-home struggle with the French. Wilberforce would find at many a juncture that his bill before the houses of Parliament was treated as seditious by an insecure nation’s leaders. It can be said that the path worn by any leader will often be decried as treacherous in the face of normality.
What comes through time and time again over the course of this story is the depth of faith this man Wilberforce had in his relationship with God. At one time sprawled on his Yorkshire grass, he tells his butler he would rather spend time observing the intricacies of spider webs, appreciating the handy work of His God than have concern for the echelon of political life in London. Described as a ‘Yorkshire Terrier‘, I appreciated this picture of his tenacious pursuit of justice. His passion was focused once he began an association with a group of activists called the ‘Clapham Group’ as they lived in an area just outside of London called ‘Clapham’ – good name eh!?
Introduced to this group of suburban church activists by his friend, the soon-to-be Prime Minister William Pitt, Wilberforce began his battle with business and politics to bring freedom to men of all races. The added sincerity of this feature film comes from the small yet impacting performance of Albert Finney as John Newton, the former slave trader and author of the hymn which bears the movie’s name, “Amazing Grace”. Finney brings a coarse grace to the role, showing a man enlightened by faith, dealing with repentance and convinced of the salvation found in Christ.
Take the time to see “Amazing Grace”, the story of an overcomer, a man of patience, who through focus, faith and the support and drive of an amazing woman would see his dream accomplished. What is clear is that for all of us, we must count the cost and evaluate the goals. Wilberforce weighed his own life against 20,000 ghosts (see the movie to understand the relevance of this phrase) to beat personal loss, sickness and and a weary heart and when the battle won, was able to lay his head on the pillow knowing his family would live within his dream. Some didn’t get to see the victory celebration. But others will get to live within its freedoms won. The story of Olaudah Equiano (described on one of the movie resource sites as “The World’s Greatest Free Man”) is a crucial point of realism as we see the brand blistered into the flesh of this man. As Equiano explains it is, ‘to let you know you no longer belong to God, but to a man”. The character takes you through the life of a slave as he leads Wilberforce through the bowls of a slave ship in the dock. From here you appreciate, comprehend, yet decry the misery of the human life of a slave; one who was treated like a lower life form commodity by the truly parasitic life form of the slave trader.
Now, why would I use the headline “Eyes Your Before Flashes Life” in this blog? The impact of this movie received an exclamation mark for me as we drove home tonight. I was driving my wife, children and a friend home from the movie when I saw a car coming the other way which was obviously going way beyond a reasonable speed limit. As less than 17/25 of a second passed in time, I couldn’t help but reflect on what had just happened. I had this sense that a flick of fate one way or guiding of God’s hand the other would have seen a head-on collision happen or be prevented, ending life as I knew it. It was real, concerning and illuminating in its force as an epiphany moment.
I had to ask myself what was the 20-year battle Andrew Pitchford was willing to face. What dream do I want my children to be able to live safely within? Now and then we have to look back before your “Life Flashes Before Your Eyes”. I wanted you to think that sometimes we don’t have the privilege of looking back on our life through a rear vision mirror.
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