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Amazing Grace


Stars: Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Albert Finney, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Gambon, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones

Director: Michael Apted

The sort of project we might expect to see on BBC2 across two evenings, this, though a bit stodgy in parts, is nonetheless an informative (and expensively mounted) history of reforming MP William Wilberforce (Gruffudd) and his battle to abolish the slave trade in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Torn between the church and politics, Wilberforce is advised by reformed slave trader John Newton (a rubicund Finney) to choose the latter and change the world. Though hampered by a lifetime struggle with colitis, Wilberforce, encouraged by his friend Billy Pitt (Cumberbatch), mounts a campaign to help relieve Africans of the appalling conditions in which they're transported half-way across the world.

Gradually winning such influential MPs as Lord Charles Fox (Gambon) to his side, Wilberforce's best chance is foiled by the enmity of pro-slavery MP Lord Tarleton (another teeth-grating villain for Hinds). After years of further failed attempts, his health breaks down - until the arrival of the empathetic Barbara Spooner (Garai), whom he marries at the late age of 37.

Gruffudd is OK if a bit uncharismatic as Wilberforce, but Garai is simply inadequate as the late-arriving Barbara. The best performance comes from the Ralph Richardson-like Cumberbatch as Pitt (later to become Prime Minister), who proves a fickle, then faithful friend. Cumberbatch is aware of, and up too, all the subtleties in this role. But it's the appalling historical facts that really carry this one through.

David Quinlan

UK 2006. UK Distributor: Momentum. Colour by De Luxe.
118 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 16 Mar 2007