Fiction is fun, but don't mess with the history

Monday, March 28, 2011

Oh no, not another history movie!

I promised myself to stay away from these things, but somehow it seemed this one might be different - alas, fooled again. I'm referring to Amazing Grace, a big-budget 2006 British film (yes, I know it's five years old - this review is for the NetFlix crowd) about 18th century MP William Wilberforce and his campaign to outlaw the slave trade. A worthy subject for a historical costume drama, certainly, but don't expect historical accuracy in this version. Why is it that a compelling true story about a remarkable man (really a group of remarkable people) is not good enough? It has to be adjusted, fudged, altered, exaggerated, simplified, romanticized and otherwise messed with until some really interesting (and really real) historical characters are transformed into standard Hollywood (or London) good v evil stereotypes? It would take me all night to list all the historical inaccuracies. The Wikipedia article barely scratches the surface.

In spite of all that, I liked the film because it got me interested enough in the history to want to find out more. It scores a 4 (of a possible 5) on my first criterion. Plus, maybe the opportunity to rant about the faults appeals to my curmudgeonly side. And, to be fair, the film's heart is in the right place. If the real Wilberforce didn't quite live up to Saint Wilbur of the film, why quibble? It's intended to be a feel-good story and I felt good at the end. Who needs credibility, subtlety, nuance and complex characters?

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