Sunday, April 01, 2007
Campaigning - 18th Century Style
We decided on seeing Amazing Grace, the tale of William Wilberforce's 20 year struggle to abolish the slave trade. Although it was clearly made on a limited budget, with no massive star names (maybe Michael Gambon excepting - who himself seems more at home on Top Gear these days), it was a remarkably affecting film. The flicking backwards and forwards between Wilberforce's early and later efforts to defeat the slavers was a little cumbersome, but all in all I thought that the atmosphere of the times and the vitriol of those opposed to abolition was expertly portrayed. I'd recommend the film certainly. It hammers home the horrors of slavery, whilst giving a warm portrayal of a man so dedicated to a noble cause and so often overlooked as the hero he was.
I was also interested in the portayal of William Pitt, Wilberforce's friend and supporter, who assumed the office of Prime Minister at a young age and held it for many years. For me, it was the parliamentary debates and the political context of the times that kept my interest, moreso perhaps than the issue of slavery itself - the mad King, the French revolution, the beginnings of industrial revolution. And a nation being led by such a young man, portrayed as idealistic but compromised by outside forces and perhaps a more complicated world than he imagined at first. I know it might be glib to say it, and I know that Pitt on the screen bore little resemblance to Pitt in reality, but I couldn't help but compare his character to our own Mr Blair - a young leader full of promise at first, wearied by the end by the knowledge that much of what he wanted could not be achieved, and distracted by wars he didn't expect or want.
Tamsin said at the start that I'd end up wanting to buy a book about Wilberforce, and I think she's partly right. When I go to town later I will be looking for one about Pitt certainly, to read more on how he managed to hold a country together in such remarkable times. Maybe there are lessons there for today.