You don’t always get what you want
|by Anne Morse|
Charlotte Allen, in today's WSJ, says viewers of Amazing Grace may receive the impression "that Wilberforce was a mostly secular humanitarian whose main passion was not Christian faith but politics and social justice." The Wilberforce who "also wrote theological tracts, sponsored missionary and charitable works, and fought for what he called the 'reformation of manners'" has been "played down" by director Michael Apted, Allan writes. And she notes that Apted told Christianity Today that he decided to play down Wilberforce's religious convictions in order not to be too "preachy."
Meanwhile, over at the New York Times, Manohla Dargis calls Grace a "squeaky clean" film that "carries a strong whiff of piety," offering a Wilberforce who "is a fanatic, a true believer, a crusader, a man of action and God .... who talks to God while lying in his garden." In other words, despite Apted's efforts, Amazing Grace is just too darn preachy. (Somebody please lead Ms. Dargis to a Victorian fainting couch and dab her forehead with cologne.)
I've seen the film twice. There are several quite inspiring scenes depicting the religious beliefs and motivations of both Wilberforce and John Newton. Overall, the film is superb. If Christians (and Wilberforce historians) do not see everything they would like in this film, my question is: When have we ever gotten everything we wanted in films about Christians? Many fans of C.S. Lewis had similar concerns about Shadowlands, including Chuck Colson, who thinks the film fell "painfully short" as genuine biography.
But as Micheal Flaherty, president of Walden Media (and maker of Amazing Grace), notes, one of Walden Media's most important goals is to get film viewers reading about the subjects of the film. And when viewers of Amazing Grace start grabbing the books, they will discover the full story about this deeply religious man who believed God had given him "two great objectives": fighting slavery and reforming society. The movie tie-in book about Wilberforce by former BreakPoint writer Eric Metaxas, also titled Amazing Grace, hit No. 24 on last week's New York Times bestseller list. It will undoubtedly go higher now that the film has been released.
That said, I cannot help wondering how much better this film might have been had the original screenwriter for Amazing Grace, Colin Welland (who wrote the screenplay for the wonderfully preachy Chariots of Fire), not been replaced by Apted.