Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace

(2019)

Oscar winner Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa) co-directs this documentary on Aretha Franklin's seminal live gospel album, recorded over two days in January, 1972.... More

"In January 1972, Aretha Franklin made her legendary album ‘Amazing Grace’ with the Southern California Community Choir and Reverend James Cleveland in the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. At the height of her fame, she made the decision to return to where she began, to the world of gospel music. Recorded in two days, this live album was to become the most successful gospel record of all time. On it, Franklin sings songs like ‘How I Got Over’, ‘Precious Memories’ and provides an 11-minute rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’. The result is a concert film that celebrates human dignity and the longing for freedom and justice and is able to transcend nostalgia and intervene in discussions about the state of the modern world. It also provides ample evidence of the enduring charisma of this soul icon who died in August 2018." (Berlin International Film Festival)Hide

Flicks Review

‘Amazing Grace’ chronicles the efforts of William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) – a Brit politician who fought to abolish the slave trade in the Empire, during the late 1700s and early 1800s. It’s easy on the eyes, and easy on the brain. A straight forward telling (aside from the ever more tedious device of flashbacks), polished production and performances make for pleasant viewing – if remarkable only by virtue of being a true story.

Choosing to centre the story on Wilberforce’s plight and career, as opposed to slavery itself, the film begins with the young campaigner exhausted and ill from his fruitless fight in parliament, and retiring to the countryside. There he meets buxom redhead Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai). A fan, Barb gets Wilberforce to recount his rise from young idealist to the defeated man we now see.

This friendship turns to romance and eventually stokes Wilberforce’s fire. He heads back to London to resume the fight.

Did you know the ‘Amazing Grace’ hymn was written by slave-shipman turned priest John Newton, and is about his regret of being involved in the atrocities? “… That saved a wretch like me” indeed. Newton is played by the brilliant Albert Finney (‘Millers Crossing’, ‘Scrooge’, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’), and provides the films most effecting moments. The priest, a bundle of fury and remorse for unforgivable sins, provides counsel for Wilberforce - who gains inspiration from Newton’s turn around.

Another veteran British actor, Michael Gambon (‘Sleepy Hollow’, ‘Gosford Park’, ‘Harry Potter’) is also a stand out. Gruffudd, Garai and Benedict Cumberbatch (as Wilberforce’s friend and Prime Minister) are better than good also.

What I found curious is the way in which the film makes Wilberforce out to be such a hero. Though he undoubtedly is, one can’t help feel that anyone with half a conscience should have done what he did. This view most likely neglects the strength of the prevalent thought of the era (ie: a racist one), but the film fails to explain this, or make enough of it. In other words Wilberforce and his supporters seem so clear thinking, and his enemies seem just plain ignorant and/or evil. The fight is then good vs bad, and quite simplistic.

Reviewed by Paul Scantlebury.

The Peoples' Reviews

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Foot-tapping, energy-crackling, Gospel-preaching, heart-reaching documentaries don’t come more uplifting than this lovingly restored 1972 time-capsule, capturing the unbridled joy of Aretha Franklin live – choir, papa, Reverend ‘n’ all. Amazing? Absolutely!


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The Press Reviews

  • Amazing Grace restores a missing piece of cinema history. With the gestures it reveals, and the spirituality it captures, it gives us something else - an act of worship, reborn. Full Review

  • You get both the most lovely gaze a professional camera's ever laid upon Aretha Franklin and some of the mightiest singing she's ever laid on you. Full Review

  • A triumph of timeless artistry over transitory obstacles; its very existence is a secular miracle. Full Review

  • Franklin's voice remains so pure and galvanic that [this] is one of the few movies you could watch with your eyes closed, though you would hardly want to. Full Review

  • Amazing Grace will not enter the pantheon of concert films - it's somewhat shapeless as a movie, and gives little sense of emotional insight into the performer. But it does contain moments of bliss... Full Review