I was watching BET tonight (I know don’t dog me) & I saw the preview for Amazing Grace, which is a movie that I knew nothing about & got really excited. I really got excited when I saw a character that looked like Olaudah Equiano.
So after the preview went off & I closed my mouth I checked online to find the movie’s website & was really impressed with the information & movement that was represented.
Like so many others, I have heard Amazing Grace all my life but did not know that story behind it until I visited the Freedom Center in Cincinnati last year on my bus trip. The Freedom Center has an awe-inspiring exhibit dedicated to the history of the Amazing Grace hymn and all of the countless African lives lost at sea while in transit to the Americas.
Amazing Grace, based on the life of antislavery pioneer William Wilberforce, is directed by Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough, Coal Miner’s Daughter) from an original screenplay written by Academy Award® nominee Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things).
The film stars Ioan Gruffudd (Black Hawk Down), Albert Finney (Erin Brockovich), Romola Garai (Vanity Fair), Michael Gambon (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Benedict Cumberbatch (Hawking), Rufus Sewell (Legend of Zorro), Ciaran Hinds (Rome) and introduces Youssou N’Dour.
Executive Producer is Jeanney Kim, with Mark Cooper as co-producer. Producers on the film are Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) and Ed Pressman under their Sunflower Productions banner, Patricia Heaton and David Hunt for FourBoys Films, and Ken Wales.
Gruffudd plays Wilberforce, who, as a Member of Parliament, navigated the world of 18th Century backroom politics to end the slave trade in the British Empire. Albert Finney plays John Newton, a confidante of Wilberforce who inspires him to pursue a life of service to humanity. Benedict Cumberbatch is William Pitt the Younger, England’s youngest ever Prime Minister at the age of 24, who encourages his friend Wilberforce to take up the fight to outlaw slavery and supports him in his struggles in Parliament.
Elected to the House of Commons at the age of 21, and on his way to a successful political career, Wilberforce, over the course of two decades, took on the English establishment and persuaded those in power to end the inhumane trade of slavery.
Romola Garai plays Barbara Spooner, a beautiful and headstrong young woman who shares Wilberforce’s passion for reform, and who becomes his wife after a whirlwind courtship. Youssou N’Dour is Olaudah Equiano. Born in Africa and sent as a slave to the Colonies, Equiano bought his freedom and made his home in London, where he wrote a best-selling account of his life and became a leading figure in the fight to end the slavery of his fellow countrymen.
For those who are not familiar with John Newton and the Amazing Grace story, here you is:
John Newton (1725–1807) was on board a slave ship. On May 10th, 1748 returning home during a storm he experienced a “great deliverance.” In his journal he wrote that the ship was in grave danger of sinking. He exclaimed “Lord, have mercy upon us!” He was converted, though he continued in the business of slave trading.
Many years later he left the slave trade and eventually became a minister. He still held investments in slave trading companies though, and socialized with old slave captain friends. Nor did he criticize slavery in his sermons until much later, long after he wrote the hymn.
The now familiar and traditional melody of the hymn was not composed by Newton, and the words were sung to a number of tunes before the now inseparable melody was chanced upon.
There are two different tunes to the words. “New Britain” first appears in a shape note hymnal from 1831 called Virginia Harmony. Any original words sung to the tune are now lost. The melody is believed to be Scottish or Irish in origin; it is pentatonic and suggests a bagpipe tune; the hymn is frequently performed on bagpipes and has become associated with that instrument. The other tune is the so-called “Old Regular Baptist” tune. It was sung by the Congregation of the Little Zion Church, Jeff, Kentucky on the album The Ritchie Family of Kentucky on the Folkways label (1958). (read more)