Aug 8, 2007

DVD Review: Amazing Grace

A period political drama is never an easy sell at the box office. Take the example of Amazing Grace, starring Ioan Gruffudd as bewigged human rights activist William Wilberforce. Critics assured us the film "entertains as much as it educates," even so, the words 'slavery' and 'parliamentarian' turned off moviegoers. It fared better in the UK than the US, but still only took £10m.

Seeking Grace

A half-hour documentary How Sweet The Sound serves as a potted biography of Wilberforce, alongside a behind-the-scenes investigation into the challenges of making the film. For director Michael Apted the test was in trying to show "how heroic politics can be". Screenwriter Steven Knight talks about collaborating with Apted to avoid a dry historical re-enactment of Wilberforce's life, and instead put the focus on the battle between young revolutionaries and a fusty establishment.
Amazing Grace DVD

Later on, there's a look at production design, with Apted insisting that he wanted to get away from the "chocolate box" image of olde worlde London and shoot the action in a "contemporary" way. Of course there's also word from Gruffudd (who admits he was "naive" about Wilberforce's achievements) and the rest of the cast, including Romola Garai, Albert Finney and Michael Gambon.

Fantastic, But Not Amazing

Gruffudd talks more about his preparations for the role in a commentary with Apted. As well as reading up on British/African history, there was also the matter of how to age convincingly onscreen. The young actor light-heartedly assures us that lots of makeup was involved because making him look old is "very hard to do...".

The director explains how he steered development of the project over two years, hiring Knight to transform it from a straightforward biopic into something that 20-something viewers could identify with. Bizarrely though, US backers Walden Media weren't so keen on the youth angle. As Apted tells it, Gruffudd was seen as a risky choice for the lead role (in spite of Fantastic Four) and Apted had to compensate by securing "big, established" names in the supporting cast.

Once again the folks at Walden Media relent to generation y by throwing in Chris Tomlin's re-jigged rendition of classic song Amazing Grace, wrapping it up for the bonus menu. Despite the pop presentation, the themes dealt with are of course weighty. The surprise is that, overall, this DVD isn't as heavy as you'd think.

# Audio commentary by director Michael Apted and star Ioan Gruffudd
# How Sweet The Sound: The Story Of Amazing Grace documentary
# Chris Tomlin music video
# Trailer

Amazing Grace DVD is released on Monday 6th August 2007.

*This review is written by Stella Papamichael, published at

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