Film Amazing Grace on William Wilberforce and anti-slavery struggle in Britain

This is a video about slave ships.

It says about itself:

The full-rigged ship was the essential technology that enabled the trans-Atlantic slave trade to flourish. Between 1698 and 1807 around 11,000 ships were fitted out in England for the slave trade, transporting around three million Africans.

But the trade also employed other vessels, from in-shore boats supplying the slavers, to the Navy vessels that protected them.

Sickness and disease were constant companions to both slaves and crew. Mortality amongst both was high, from disease, mistreatment, accident and suicide.

Dr Stuart Anderson explores the relationship between ships, slavery and sickness, and considers the measures eventually taken to improve health at sea.

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:

By Joanne Laurier:

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the struggle to end the British slave trade

2 March 2007

Amazing Grace, directed by Michael Apted, screenplay by Steven Knight

Marking the 200th anniversary of the outlawing of the British slave trade, a new film commemorates the remarkable life of abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1833).

Amazing Grace from British director Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough, Coal Miner’s Daughter) chronicles Wilberforce’s struggle to end the trade in the late eighteenth century.

Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), a sensitive and dynamic orator elected to the House of Commons at age 21, is urged by his closest friend William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch) to champion the cause of abolishing the slave trade, as a first step toward ending slavery in the British territories.

The latter notion is so completely out of the question that no abolitionist dares propose it publicly.

The title of the film is derived from an ally of Wilberforce, John Newton, composer of the Christian hymn Amazing Grace.

If today, one hears this hymn in isolation, without knowledge of Newton’s life, eg, its lines “I once was lost, but now I”m found”, at first sight one may consider it chiché religiosity, and understand why today’s religious Right tries to appropriate people like Newton and Wilberforce.

However, this changes if one knows that Newton once was captain of a slave ship.

Being an eyewitnes to the horrors of the slave trade eventually made him an opponent of slavery.

Newton is quoted as:

blow a hole in their [Newton’s ex slave trader colleagues’] ships with it….

[W]e were apes, they [the slaves] were human…. I couldn’t breathe until I wrote this.

“I once was lost” is evidently about much deeper issues than the standard Christian Right tales of conversion of someone who was once gay or had sex outside marriage, and now has a model Christian Right marriage blah blah blah …

By the way, the Christian Right of the 1800s was pro slavery.

Like they also today sing America the Beautiful (only the first stanza) by Christian lesbian socialist and anti-imperialist Katharine Lee Bates, without mentioning the later stanzas and the author’s real views.

Discussion on Wilberforce: here.

Various articles on 200 years of abolition of slave trade in Britain: here.

British director Amma Asante’s film Belle is inspired by a fascinating historical episode that helped pave the way for the end of the British Empire’s slave trade in 1807 and the outlawing of slavery in Britain in 1833: here.

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7 thoughts on “Film Amazing Grace on William Wilberforce and anti-slavery struggle in Britain

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