Widgets The Swingles' Dramatic Developments: Can one film change the world?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Can one film change the world?

I've devoted my life to a career in theatre, knowing that films changed my life as a boy.

Tonight I experienced the kind of film that could inspire someone to be a world-changer.

I caught a sneek preview of Amazing Grace, which opens in theatres nationwide on February 23.

I was weeping through much of the film, and by the time the credits rolled I had tears streaming down my face. Everything I've ever heard or read about William Wilberforce was inspiring, but to see his story lived out before my eyes was breathtaking.

In performing A Clear Leading for over a decade now I've lived in the skin of someone who stood up against his whole world to fight slavery, but John Woolman, the protagonist in my play, had comparitively little to lose. Wilberforce was a politician, with a strong career in the public unfolding before him. He risked all of that and more, living with a disease brought on by the stress he endured year after year.

The story is brilliantly told to a woman with whom his friends (played by Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell of Chariots Of Fire have set him up. (I'm shedding more tears thinking of how my dear friends the Whitakers set me up with the most wonderful woman alive.) The future Mrs. Wilberforce (played strongly by Romola Garai) followed the abolitionist's career from afar. He inspired her, as a young girl, to change the world. But newspapers don't tell all the details. They tell the facts, but story tells truth.

The filmmakers didn't need to dwell on brutality. In fact, the only whipping shown is of a horse, which also moves Wilberforce to action. Instead, we see the evidence of the brutal trade in much the same way the other members of Parliament would have, laid forth by a brilliant orator. But this is no film of talking heads. The sets and costumes are lush, and the dramatic tension is high.

There isn't a weak link in the cast. These actors have clearly given their all to tell this powerful story. Ioan Gruffudd (Black Hawk Down, The Fantastic Four and its sequel due out in June, who's trailer is #1 at, plays Wilberforce well at a variety of ages, as does upcoming actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Wilberforce's friend who becomes Prime Minister, William Pitt.

Though his story is only hinted at, John Newton, who wrote the song "Amazing Grace," is at the center of the story because the former slave ship owner inspired Wilberforce as his pastor, and then again later in life as he began to transcribe his memoirs after he really did go blind. Award-winning actor Albert Finney plays Newton with such passion at every turn. Ken Wales, a producer of Amazing Grace wants to create a film that tells Newton's full story. Pray this film does well enough to make that happen.

I really believe this film is going to inspire someone to make big changes for good in the world, and in fact it already is. Do your best to be certain as many people as possible see it. Let people know about it this weekend and take as many people as possible to see it opening weekend, starting February 23. Visit for more information.


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