March 06, 2007

"Amazing Grace" . . . amazing but misleading

The movie has its main character, William Wilberforce, singing words that his clergyman, John Newton, had written.

In the movie, Wilberforce sings the words to the melody we associate today with “Amazing Grace,” and that same melody occurs at other points in the movie.

However, the familiar words were not adapted to that particular melody until AFTER Wilberforce’s death.

Furthermore, while the entire history depicted in the movie took place in England, the later fitting of the original lyrics to the now-familiar melody took place in the United States.


Anonymous Loyolalaw98 said...

The producer's of this film are also on public record as saying that they've purposely downplayed Wilberforce's Christianity.

More specifically, that they thought portraying the religious basis for his opposition to slavery would "turn off" modern audiences.

Orwell wrote about State mandted revisionism in his work "1984," Stalin actually practiced it, in our modern culture we have what may be the only thing more unthinkable - self-imposed revisionism.

O tempore, o mores!

5:01 PM  
Blogger and also with you said...

I'm looking forward to seeing the movie, but I have no expectation of historical or musicological accuracy.

Back in that time, hymns (texts) and tunes were more commonly interchanged. Wilberforce likely knew several Common Meter tunes (the 8686 rhyme scheme that Newton's words are written in), and could have sung "Amazing Grace" to any of them. But now in the popular imagination, "Amazing Grace" is forever wedded to "New Britain," the tune played in the movie.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

I took my twelve year-old son to see the movie on Sunday. I a few facts fell victim to artistic license.

Charles James Fox, for instance, was shown delivering a congratulatory speech on the floor of Parliament when Wilburforce's bill passed at the movie's climax. In reality, Fox died in Sept., 1806, and the slave trade was outlawed in March, 1807. It would've been a neat trick.

By and large, however, I thought it a fine movie. I also though Wilburforce's religious motivation was perfectly clear. In the beginning he's shown wrestling over whether or not he should take up the Anglican ministry, or stay in Parliament. His preoccupation with God and his religious motivation to my eyes were perfectly clear. A more direct reflection on Wilburforce's specifically Christian motives would've been welcome, but I had no problem with it.

See the film.


1:18 PM  

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