Michael Apted, whose claim to fame till now has been the respected 7 UP documentary series, directs this lavish costume drama whose heart is as big as its budget. Though a marked departure, Apted’s idealistic interests are well served by the story, which is based on the true tale of the 18th-century British politician William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd, who played Horatio Hornblower in the HORNBLOWER series). Though as a young man Wilberforce is torn between politics and the church, he is inspired to action by John Newton (Albert Finney), a penitent monk who is haunted by his past as a slave-ship captain. Wilberforce makes it his mission to end slavery in the British Empire, and, aided by a small band of radical thinkers and unlikely supporters, he annually presents a bill for abolition to Parliament. When the war with France generates a patriotism in the people that makes opposition to slavery seem seditious, Wilberforce becomes disillusioned, and he retires to his cousin’s (Nicholas Farrell) house, physically ill and emotionally destroyed by his perceived failure. When he meets the beautiful and righteous Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai, AS YOU LIKE IT), however, he gains new determination to pursue his dream of abolition. The talented cast includes Michael Gambon as Lord Fox, an old gent who turns out to be more lucid than anyone would have guessed, as well as Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour as Oloudaqh Equiano, a regal former slave turned activist. Terrence Malick (BADLANDS), who produced the film, leaves his mark in the stunning visuals.
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