February 27, 2007
We can derive as much from the film about Wilberforce’s character, convictions and concern for the welfare of others as we can about slavery in 18th-century England.
Directed by Michael Apted, the movie portrays the key elements of Wilberforce’s career, highlighting his tireless efforts coupled with his evangelistic fervor and intense resolve to fight slavery in the British colonies.
The timing of the film's release could hardly have been better. March 25, 2007, marks the 200th anniversary of the bill signed in Parliament to abolish slavery in the British colonies. And, on March 2, 1807, Thomas Jefferson signed a similar bill abolishing the slave trade in the United States.
In a flashback format, the story line includes other key figures: those who urged Wilberforce on in his crusade as well as those who opposed him. Wilberforce was joined in his quest to end slave trading by John Newton, an English clergyman, hymn writer and former slave trader (played by Albert Finney). Newton authored the poem “Amazing Grace” that later inspired the well-known hymn by the same title.
Wilberforce's struggle lasted most of his political career and he was notified of its success only three days before he died in 1833, when the House of Commons finally passed the law that emancipated all the slaves in Britain's colonies.
STRENGTH OF CONVICTION
We can derive as much from the film about Wilberforce’s character, convictions and concern for the welfare of others as we can about slavery in 18th-century England, when very few other parliamentarians were willing to stand up against the majority of their fellow-legislators and fight to eliminate the brutal and inhumane treatment of slaves.
A nearly solitary crusader, Wilberforce sacrificed the majority of his adult life working against slavery and unfortunately lost many friendships in the process. Nevertheless he used his influential position to work tirelessly for the benefit of those who were less fortunate than himself.
Certainly, Wilberforce was well situated to wage this crusade. But is it only when one has political power and access to government processes that it becomes incumbent to intervene in the oppression of others less fortunate? Does this principle not also apply to each of us on a personal level?
Perhaps the film's message is as much a historical lesson for each of us individually as it is for those who would take the reins of leadership. In any case, Wilberforces's story is undeniably one of amazing courage . . . as well as grace.