Who's in It:
Ioan Gruffudd, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Romola Garai, Toby Jones, Rufus Sewell
The Basics: It's about the British abolitionist William Wilberforce and how he talked and talked and talked Parliament into ending slavery. He talked for years until he made himself sick, this saintly fellow. But it's kind of difficult to feel the suspense of "Wow, how's this all going to turn out?" when the ending they got rid of slavery eventually, FYI is this clear-cut.
What's the Deal? Hey, history teachers everywhere, do I have a movie for you. It's full of extensively researched details, doesn't go off on fictional tangents, is morally upstanding, contains no extraneous Schindler's List-y explicit sex scenes, is as bone dry as a textbook and, best of all, to make it even more classroom-friendly it's British. It's the kind of thing you can spend three full class days showing to your students while you grade papers you should have done during your lunch hour. The perfect slacker's lesson plan.
When Do They Get to the Part About Amazing Grace? I did, in fact, doze off twice while watching this I blame the overheated screening room, the fact that I had just eaten lunch and the additional problem of the movie being superboring so maybe I missed the whole "and then they wrote the song, 'Amazing Grace' " subplot. But it was only for a couple of minutes at a time, I think, because I checked my cell-phone clock, and it didn't seem like I'd been away for very long. OK, wait, I just looked it up online. It turns out that Finney's character, who's a former slave-ship captain (the one who spends the whole movie weeping in a sackcloth and mopping a church), wrote it as a form of penance. Could have fooled me, though. One minute they're arguing in Parliament, and the next, there's a band of bagpipers playing the song over the end credits. Maybe I was asleep for longer than I thought.
Who's (and What's) Good: Gruffudd as Wilberforce wrings as much sweaty anguish out of the guy as he can, so he gets points for trying hard. Also watchable is the always cool Gambon as a member of Parliament who has a change of heart about slavery. Meanwhile, it's also one of the rare movies that accomplishes making religion look like something smart people might want to participate in. So if you're one of those folks who got all bent out of shape about Jesus Camp making Christians look bad, then check this out.
The Movie I Wish I'd Seen: The one about the former slave who wrote his memoirs (played by musician Youssou N'Dour) and who is just a supporting character here. I already know what the white people did. I want to hear about this guy.