Film No 22 (2015) : Amazing Grace

Amazing GraceDue to the vagaries of the English education system, I actually didn’t study History beyond the age of 14. Up until that point, we had ‘done’ Mesopotamia, Iron Age man, Henry VIII, The Industrial Revolution and WW2. As you can see, there are some fairly significant gaps in my historical insight: I’m not sure if I should really admit in public that I do attempt to shore up my pitiful knowledge by watching films such as ‘Amazing Grace‘.

This 2006 production, directed by Michael Apted, tells the story of William Wilberforce, the 18th Century parliamentarian who campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade. ‘Wilber’ is played by Ioan Gruffudd, supported by an impressive British cast including Michael Gambon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Albert Finney  and Rufus Sewell. Romola Garai plays Wilberforce’s wife – you may recognise her as ‘Sugar’ from the TV adaptation of Michel Faber’s ‘The Crimson Petal and the White.

The passage of Wilberforce’s Parliamentary Bill to abolish the slave trade was not a smooth one, as the interests of merchants were not best served by the prevention of slave trading, particularly in coastal port towns. Despite first-hand accounts of the cruelty of the trade, from both former slaves and sailors, together with petitions and the input of anti-slavery activists, there was still opposition to the Bill. It was not until 1792 that Parliament passed a Bill calling for ‘gradual abolition’.

Incidentally, the film takes its name from the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ which was penned by John Newton and published in 1779. Newton was himself the captain of a slave ship and although he continued to invest in the trade after his retirement, he did eventually denounce the inhumanity of slave trading. Wilberforce looked to Newton for spiritual guidance and also used Newton’s accounts of the slave trade to support his political campaign.

With its combination of classical actors, the great oratory and period setting, this film felt to me more like an elaborate stage production. As with most period dramas, I am always impressed by the attention to detail that goes into depicting the clothes, decor and customs of a bygone era and ‘Amazing Grace‘ was no exception.  Maybe not a stunning film, but definitely interesting and worth watching. Added to which, I also supplemented my meagre historical background, which can’t be a bad thing.

Film No 40 (2014) : Paddington

paddingtonWith a few hours to kill in town, teenage son and I opted to watch ‘Paddington’ whilst we waited for his sister to finish work. A friend had recommended it as a fun movie and I was a bit sceptical, but she was absolutely right, it is a fantastic family film. Funny and exciting, it has something for everyone.

No doubt you know the story of the bear who travels from Darkest Peru with an emergency sandwich under his hat, only to find himself stranded and lonely at Paddington station. He is taken in by the kindly Mr and Mrs Brown, whereupon he finds himself embroiled in many adventures. The first original Paddington Bear story was written by Michael Bond in 1958 and the author’s early creations feature in this screen adaptation; Mr Curry (Peter Capaldi), the neighbour, Mrs Bird (Julie Walters), the housekeeper and Mr Gruber (Jim Broadbent) who owns the antique shop on the Portobello Road. I am not sure whether Mr Bond also penned a wicked taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) who wants to stuff the young bear as a specimen for her collection in the Natural History Museum, but that is what happens in the film!

Two elements of the film intrigued me; firstly, I love the juxtaposition of the CGI/animatronic Paddington against the ‘real’ world. Although these computer-generated images must make acting extremely difficult for the cast, the technological  combinations have come along way since Bob Hoskins and Jessica in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit‘. After a while, I just completely forgot that Paddington was just a furry bundle of pixels!

The other interesting effect was the colour scheme. Particularly obvious within the Brown’s house but running throughout the film, the colours used are primarily rust/mustard and blue. Paddington’s hat, the interior of the house in Windsor Gardens and Mrs Brown clothes, are gold and burgundy, Mr Brown’s things are blue – the duffle coat he gives Paddington, his motorbike, his jumpers. It’s effective in giving the film not only visual appeal but also cohesion. The same kind of muted red/yellow/green were also used as the colour scheme in ‘Stuart Little 2‘ back in 2002, but I can’t find any links between the two movies.

If you get a chance while it’s still on in the cinema, go and see this film. Take a child or two as cover, but don’t bother with the marmalade sandwich – you will be far too busy to need it!

(Paddington fans could also use the Christmas holiday break to head up to London to search for bears on The Paddington Trail – but, be quick, as they are disappearing back to Peru on 30th December 2014!)