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Film / Amazing Grace

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A 2006 Biopic on famous abolitionist William Wilberforce, and his fight to demolish Britain's slave trade, starring Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Benedict Cumberbatch and Albert Finney.

Not to be confused with Amazing Freaking Grace, the actual song.


  • Amazing Freaking Grace: Wilberforce sings the title hymn in a pub, mentioning that it was written by his pastor John Newton, a reformed slave trader (adding some resonance to "a wretch like me").
  • Answers to the Name of God: The abolitionists are surprised when Lord Charles Fox walks in unexpectedly to join their side, leading to the wry exchange:
    Wilberforce: Dear God!
    Fox: Well, almost.
  • Artistic License – Music: When Wilberforce sings the title song, he uses the familiar tune which was actually not paired with the text until the 19th century. Since the original tune is lost to history, that's probably a justified case.
  • The Atoner: John Newton, a former slave trader, became a staunchly religious abolitionist. He saw his ascetic life and devotion to faith as penance for his earlier acts of cruelty.
  • Babies Ever After: William and Barbara.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Wilberforce's entire struggle to abolish slavery is more or less this.
    • Pitt tries to help out Wilberforce's cause in the House of Commons (by threatening to shoot an MP for him) but the MP more or less brushes him off. Later on, when a sick Wilberforce tries to get Pitt—now Prime Minister—to read his bill for him, Pitt says he can't openly support abolition while the revolution in France is going on. He does help out in the end, though.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Particularly in his younger years, Wilberforce refers to his strangeness, such as sitting in the wet grass and hiding in a slave's berth, multiple times throughout the film.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    One of Wilberforce's supporters: I sent a note of thanks to those who voted for us.
    Thomas Clarkson: Oh, how sweet of you.
  • Engaging Conversation: William and Barbara.
  • Fiery Redhead: Barbara.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Although Wilberforce and Barbara initially have no interest in each other, they bond in less than a day over their common desire to see the slave trade ended. Half of this is Truth in Television: the real Barbara showed little interest in Wilberforce's politics, but he did propose to her after just eight days, and they had a close marriage until his death.
    Wilberforce: Barbara and I have discovered we are both impatient and prone to rash decisions.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Wilberforce is a bit ... extreme about having pets.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Most Parliament scenes are basically a group of these having a Snarkfest Showdown.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Courtesy of Barbara.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Charles Fox deciding to join up with the abolitionists is quite a shocker to them.
    "I spent 18 months being torn apart in the House by you, Mr. Wilberforce. I thought I'd find out what it feels like on your side. Any of you saints drink?"
  • Heel–Faith Turn: A very mild version, and Wilberforce was already against slavery beforehand, but his crusade really kicks into high gear after he finds God.
    • Also the backstory of Wilberforce's pastor John Newton, who is shown to be very penitential about his past as a slave trader.
  • Historical Beauty Update: William Wilberforce was, unsurprisingly, not so good-looking as Ioan Gruffudd. And the real Thomas Clarkson was, according to nearly all his portraits, slightly overweight, while Rufus Sewell was definitely not.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The real Wilberforce had more complicated views than his portrayal here might suggest, though still Fair for Its Day. Movie Wilberforce declares "I believe all men are created equal!" but the historical Wilberforce wasn't in favor of restructuring society to eliminate poverty, just in making sure the rich treated the poor fairly.
    "[The poor should know] that their more lowly path has been allotted to them by the hand of God; that it is their part ... contentedly to bear its inconveniences."
  • Insult Backfire:
    Duke of Clarence: Revolution is like the pox. It spreads from person to person.
    William Wilberforce: I bow to my honorable friend's superior knowledge and experience in all matters regarding the pox.
  • Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone: William and Barbara are shoved at each other at every single possible opportunity. Neither is amused. They end up together anyway.
  • Lost Him in a Card Game: Wilberforce pulls out of a card game in disgust when his opponent, the Duke of Clarence, bets a slave. (The Duke knew perfectly well about Wilberforce's abolitionist convictions and was clearly doing it to get a rise out of him, even describing the slave pointedly with the N-word.)
  • Nature Lover: Wilberforce, after his spiritual enlightenment.
    William Wilberforce: I have ten thousand engagements of state today but I would prefer to spend the day getting a wet arse, studying dandelions and marvelling at bloody spiders' webs.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Treats his butler more like a confidant than a servant.
  • Not So Stoic: Wilberforce keeps his own disappointment and bitterness to himself, but finally bursts after a conversation with Barbara reminds him of everything that's been done to advance the abolition movement, to still no avail.
    Barbara Spooner: It seemed that every spring the daffodils came out, every summer the cherries ripened, and every autumn William Wilberforce would present his bill to the House.
    William Wilberforce: And still.
    Barbara Spooner: And still?
    William Wilberforce: And still, after all the badges, the petitions, all the speeches and bills, ships full of human souls sail around the world as cargo!
  • Servile Snarker: Richard, Wilberforce's butler.
  • Shaming the Mob: Wilberforce wines and dines a bunch of important people on a shipdeck, complete with a fancy music quartet, and then sails them straight past the Madagascar-a slave ship. It works.
  • Tears of Remorse: See Unable to Cry below.
  • Unable to Cry: Pastor John Newton, the blind former slave trader, is last seen dictating his memoirs/confession to a scribe, in which he gives full details of the atrocities he took part in, and tells Wilberforce that despite decades of crushing guilt, he wasn't actually able to weep until he wrote it. The Tears of Remorse he is finally able to shed are clearly a great weight off his soul.
  • Wham Line: "Tarleton, fetch my nigger." The cold, casual delivery of the line is bad enough, but the context makes it worse: Clarence intends to use him as stakes in a card game.
  • What You Are in the Dark: After Wilberforce first brings out his idea he's booed out of court. The after meeting has most of his family and the Quakers; however, one of the speakers comes and joins them, William Dolben, who reveals that he's been on a slave ship as part of a journey and having witnessed the cruelty on it, he supports them, but is ashamed that he cannot do it publicly because he represents a town that thrives off it. He still helps put together the Shaming the Mob example. Fox as well, as detailed in Heel–Face Turn.