out of Five
Running time: 111
Impressively directed, politically relevant and occasionally inspirational, this is an enjoyable, engaging drama with strong performances from its talented cast.
What's it all about?
The film begins in 1797, as an ailing William Wilberforce (Ioan
Gruffud) considers retiring from politics, exhausted after a decade of trying to put a stop to the slave trade. However, whilst resting in the country, he meets the beautiful, spirited Barbara Spooner (Romola
Garai) and their whirlwind romance inspires him to once again take up the cause, eventually leading to the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.
As Wilberforce talks politics into the night with Barbara, flashbacks fill us in on his political career, including his friendship with Britain's youngest ever Prime Minister, William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch), his political allies (Michael Gambon), his fellow campaigners (Rupert Sewell, Stephen Campbell Moore) and his clashes with his powerful political opponents (Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones).
Gruffud gives a solid, likeable performance as Wilberforce and he's surrounded by a cast of top-notch character actors firing on all cylinders. Stand-outs include Benedict Cumberbatch as Pitt, Ciaran Hinds' hissable baddie, Albert Finney as the composer of the titular tune and Romola Garai, who generates strong chemistry with Gruffud.
The story is fascinating because it marks the beginnings of political activism in this country – the abolitionists mounted Britain's first grass-roots' campaign. It also has significant relevance to today's
society: despite slavery being abolished 200 years ago, statistics suggest that there are more slaves today than there were in 1797.
The only real problem with the film is that the flashback structure means that you have to pay careful attention to the infrequent onscreen date captions and the old-age make-up in order to keep track of what's going on.
In short, this is an enjoyably worthy, well written, informative and thought-provoking film with terrific performances from its exceptional cast. Recommended.