This solid customer inverts the balance last seen on the stodgy Amistad, where the most impressive strands were the slave trade scenes. Here, the slave experience is evoked at a remove (nightmare flickers, Youssou N’Dour’s haunted face) and immediacy lies in the campaign for abolition. Convincing audiences that slavery is a bad thing isn’t hard, but helmer Michael Apted lubricates the potentially dry material with the aid of spry storytelling and a stellar Brit-cast. Ciarán Hinds makes dastardly as Lord Tarlton, while Albert Finney rivets as sorrowful ex-slaver (and title-hymn writer) John Newton. The laurels, though, go to Ioan Gruffudd’s turn as abolitionist William Wilberforce. Juggling zeal with humility, he also shares a rapport with Benedict Cumberbatch’s PM William Pitt the Younger. The tone’s a bit heavy, but only the syrup-scored climax conjures the dull worthiness of Spielberg’s epic.
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