Thursday, April 5, 2007


Historical drama, true story

Triangular trade is a historical term denoting trade between three ports or regions. They have tended to evolve where a region had an export commodity that was not required in the same region where its major imports entered the country. Typically from a British port supplies such as copper, cloth, guns and ammunition would be shipped to a port in Africa and sold in exchange for slaves. For the second leg of the triangle the ship would then make the ten-week journey to the New World and the slaves, having to endure horrific conditions while tightly packed like any other cargo, were sold for a good profit. The ships were then purposely sunk to get them thoroughly clean, refloated, drained of water then loaded for a return voyage to their home port. From the West Indies the main cargo was sugar, rum, and molasses; from Virginia, it was tobacco and hemp. The ship then returned to Britain to complete the triangle.

Thomas Clarkson (1760 –1846) in 1785 while at Cambridge entered an essay competition on the question “Is it lawful to enslave the unconsenting?” He read everything he could on the subject and was appalled by what he discovered. He became a leading campaigner against England’s involvement in the slave trade. The movement had been gathering strength for some years, having been founded by Quakers who submitted the first petition against the slave trade to the British Parliament in 1783.

John Newton (1725 –1807) at one time had been a master of a slave trading ship. Returning to England in 1748, the ship encountered a severe Atlantic storm. As the vessel filled with water he prayed for God’s mercy. That marked the beginning of his conversion to Christianity. He later went on to become the leading Anglican clergyman of the day and Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth church. He is best known as the author of the hymn Amazing Grace.

William Wilberforce (1759 –1833) in 1787 was introduced to Thomas Clarkson and the growing group campaigning against the slave trade. As a Member of Parliament, he was persuaded to become leader of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

William Pitt (1759 –1806) served as British Prime Minister from 1783 to 1801 under the reign of George III. During his prime ministerial tenure the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars dominated the world scene.

Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745 –1797) at the age of eleven was sold to white slave traders and taken to the New World. He was bought by a British naval captain and was afforded naval training. His master sent him to school to learn how to read and write. He was then sold to a Quaker merchant in Philadelphia. With his literacy and seamanship skills, he was too valuable for plantation labour so was set to work in the merchant’s office. In his early twenties, Equiano succeeded in buying his freedom for £40.

appeasement is a policy of accepting the imposed conditions of an aggressor in lieu of armed resistance, usually at the sacrifice of principles.

Ioan Gruffudd (pronounced YO-an GRIFF-ith): William Wilberforce (Wilber to his friends)
Romola Garai: his future wife Barbara Spooner

Benedict Cumberbatch: William Pitt, Wilberforce’s friend
Rufus Sewell: Thomas Clarkson
Albert Finney: John Newton

This biographical recounting of the legislative battle to abolish the slave trade in Britain makes for fascinating viewing if you are into that kind of thing. With first-class production values throughout (Cinematography, Production Design, Set Decoration, Costume Design) it looks and feels real (even to the point it’s raining in 75% of the exterior shots).

The acting is uniformly excellent although with so many people on the screen at one time during the debates sometimes that’s not easy to discern.

for thematic material involving slavery and some mild language.

The title refers to the well-known Christian hymn Amazing Grace. It was written c. 1772 by John Newton. As with other hymns of this period, the words were sung to a number of different tunes before it became linked to the current one when it appeared in American hymnbooks in the 1830’s. The melody is believed to be Scottish or Irish in origin; it is frequently performed on bagpipes and has become associated with that instrument.

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