I re-watched this moving film last night. I knew very little of this period in history, other than a couple of names and recall watching the first time because it is historical, it had Ioan and Benedict in it.
It covers the period in William Wilberforce’s life where he tries to bring through parliament the Abolition of Slavery Act, during a time when many direct and indirect industries were reaping greedy amounts of riches from the backs of Africans, shipping and sugar plantations. As humans we rarely want to think about the full consequences that bring us what we want [how many of us could really visit a slaughter house but would clamour for a good steak or sizzling bacon, how many of us think of sweat shop working conditions but begrudge paying extra for ethically traded clothing, I am as big a hypocrite on this score as anyone].
Politics and its ugliness, it most devious and scheming thwarts attempts time after time. We meet John Newton [excellently portrayed by Albert Finney] in his monastic years, his spirit and dreams haunted by the thousand of slaves he had on his ships, and the bodies he threw overboard. Known to the educated as the author of the hymn, he implores and encourages Wilberforce to struggle on.
Eventually he succeeded, but only be a lighty devious means. Often when his motion was put to the house the opposition would ensure they had all their people there ready to vote. So, a bill was introduced by another with regard the use of ‘neutral flags’, where ships often flew them to avoid being attacked and boarded by privateers. A boring bill, a piece of nothing, but all too late did Lord Tarleton realise that by banning the use of ‘neutral flags’ the slave ships and sugar ships could not carry their cargo safely and thus a resounding victory saw the start of this country’s abolition of slave labour.
The portrayal of these men is colourful and impressive and gives insight to the period excellently, but it is the very end as the credit begin to roll that so do my tears. It starts with a lone piper, in full dress uniform slowly marching through the amassed company playing the haunting strains of Amazing Grace, shortly the remainder of the pipers join in, as the lone piper continues his slow march. As the piper progresses and the camera pans back you see the drummers as the begin. Until finally the whole band is together in harmony. The building up on the layers is goose-bumping and to my ears no piece of music is ever as ‘right’ as bagpipes and Amazing Grace.
A blight on our countries history, one of quite a few really, but we do find enlightenment eventually.