‘Amazing Grace’ about song’s origin, history surrounding it | TheUnion.com

‘Amazing Grace’ about song’s origin, history surrounding it

What are the best songs of all time? John Lennon’s “Imagine”? The Rolling Stone’s “Satisfaction”? “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Smells Like Nirvana”?

How about a song by John Newton … written more than 200 years ago?

I always associated “Amazing Grace” with black history. It wasn’t until I saw the film “Amazing Grace,” with Albert Finney playing John Newton, that I learned that this song-for-all-time was written by a white guy. This white guy devoted himself to the church after years as a captain of ships crammed to death with slaves that stoked the New World.

The film is worth seeing just to feel something about the origins of that song. What the film is more fully about is the decades-long campaign to end Britain’s slave trade. Ioan Gruffudd plays William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament who fought tirelessly to turn England’s body politic officially against the slave trade. He did this despite the fact that half of its privileged lords owed some of their fortune to that unconscionable business.

The cast is excellent, albeit not well known. If the name Ioan Gruffudd isn’t enough fun as an actor’s name, how about Benedict Cumberpatch? He plays England’s young prime minister, William Pitt, a longtime friend and cautious ally of Wilberforce. Wilberforce’s spirit and political stamina are well worth seeing, just to feel how justice comes to be part of the political dynamic.

“Amazing Grace” is a very earnest telling. This keeps it from being big box office, but it also makes it a film that will richly impress many. John Newton had a profound effect on William Wilberforce. This is a story of politics, but it reaches loftier heights because it is a spiritual story of practically impractical weight.

The friendship between Wilberforce and Pitt, along with Wilberforce’s courtship and marriage, helps the story unfold in a likeable way. This, a peppering of wit and the film’s intelligent goodness, make its earnest quality a unique triumph.


Chuck Jaffee lives in Nevada City. Find his other articles for The Union at http://www.startlets.com.

How many people know more than the first verse of one of the best songs of all time, “Amazing Grace”?

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me,

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved.

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,

I have already come.

‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.

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