Monthly Archives: March 2010

YotH: The Ninth Daughter

The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton. Berkley Trade, 2009.

This is my second March entry in the 2010 reading challenge Year of the Historical.

In 1773 Boston, Abigail Adams goes to visit Mrs. Rebecca Malvern and instead discovers the corpse of a woman face down on the floor. At first Abigail fears it is her friend but she soon realizes that the body belongs to a stranger. Her relief is short-lived however because Rebecca Malvern has disappeared.

Aware of Rebecca’s ties to the Sons of Liberty, an underground organization of patriots, Abigail calls Samuel Adams to clear away any incriminating evidence before the British are aware of the crime. But Samuel is distressed to find that Rebecca is not the only one to disappear – gone too are a book of ciphers which contains the pen names used by the Sons of Liberty to submit articles and challenge British authority. Set during the tension between the British and the Sons of Liberty that will culminate in the Boston Tea Party, the situation grows worse when John Adams is suspected of the murder. It is up to Abigail to find her friend Rebecca and solve a murder in order to clear her husband’s name.

Although The Ninth Daughter focuses mainly on Abigail, many other historical figures play minor roles. Abigail meets with noted Sons of Liberty Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere, and the rest of the Adams family (husband John, daughter Nabby, and son Johnny) are also included in the novel.

While it is well-known that Abigail Adams addressed her correspondence with her husband to “My Dearest Friend”, the pen names she used, and that Hamilton uses within the story, were new to me. Historically, John and Abigail began corresponding during their courtship and continued to write letters back and forth throughout their marriage when separated by distance. Abigail was just seventeen and John twenty-six when they began writing to one another, adopting pen names as was the custom. While John called himself Lysander, after the Spartan war hero, Abigail was named Diana, for the Roman goddess of the moon. She addressed her letters then as she famously would for the rest of her life to “My Dearest Friend.” After they married and had begun a family, Abigail changed her pen name to Portia, wife of the Roman politician Brutus.

What Barbara Hamilton does so well is to recreate the atmosphere of the times. She not only includes period details like the work being done, but also offers descriptions of the sounds and smells of 1770’s Boston so that the reader feels a part of the era. The tension between the British and the Sons of Liberty can be felt throughout the novel and Hamilton does a great job of building up to what will be known as Boston Tea Party.

When it comes to historical sleuths Abigail Adams is an inspired choice. Feisty, opinionated, and smart, she makes a great protagonist and, just as importantly, Hamilton writes her well. Abigail’s thoughts and words reminded me of the passionate woman portrayed so wonderfully by Laura Linney in the HBO miniseries John Adams, and as I read I could hear Linney’s Abigail in my head speak each line. Hamilton also does well to include Abigail’s social and political thoughts on the rights of women and slaves in a subtle but noticeable way.

The mystery itself was interesting and enough clues were given that the reader can take on the amateur sleuth role alongside Abigail. This is the first of a planned series and I look forward to reading more Abigail Adams mysteries in the future.

Verdict: Atmospheric with an intelligent and realistic historical protagonist. Well worth a read.


Leave a comment

Filed under American History, Mystery March

Sunday Spotlight: Crime Thru Time

I’ve been falling behind on ‘Mystery March’, but if you’d like to sneak in a last mystery before the end of the month I suggest a visit to Crime Thru Time. Established as a discussion list in 1999, this independent historical mystery novel website has since grown to include “information about upcoming releases, series/author book lists, timelines, and links of interest.” This fabulous resource for the mystery reader even includes a subsection for young adult historical mysteries.

Of course the definition of ‘historical mystery’ depends on who you ask, so Crime Thru Time has a Definitions page to explain what is and is not a historical mystery. Even if you understand the distinction, the Definitions page is worth a read for the interesting discussion it raises on period as character.

Like the wonderful, which I mentioned in a previous Sunday Spotlight, Crime Thru Time provides a listing of historical novels by era beginning with the ancient world and continuing into the 20th century. Entries are alphabetical by the last name of the author and also note the protagonist if the author has written a series of mysteries featuring one character, such as George Herman’s Leonardo Da Vinci mysteries. Clicking on an author name brings you to a description of the historical or fictional protagonist, the geographical location and time period in which the novel is set, and a list of published mysteries with their respective dates of publication.

With more than 700 members, Crime Thru Time has clearly not abandoned its discussion list origins. The list can be subscribed to by e-mail and a voluntary group read is held each month. The description reads:

“On our discussion list we talk about history, culture, authors and mysteries. We often share information found on the net about the historical periods written in the novels. We are an ever growing list made up of both authors and readers. We welcome historical readers and writers of all kinds.”

Although I’m not a member of Crime Thru Time, I do appreciate the time and effort that has gone into compiling such a wonderful list of historical mysteries. ‘Mystery March’ has opened my eyes to this growing subgenre of fiction and I look forward to finding future reads using Crime Thru Time.

Crime Thru Time can be visited here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mystery March, Sunday Spotlight

YotH: 1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion

1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion by Morgan Llywelyn. Tor Books, 1998.

This is my first March entry in the 2010 reading challenge Year of the Historical.

This is my second novel for the 2010 Ireland Reading Challenge.

The novel begins in 1914 with fifteen-year-old Ned Halloran from County Clare setting sail across the Atlantic. His sister Kathleen is about to be married and her fiance, a representative of the White Star Line, has bought second-class tickets for Ned and his parents onboard a great ocean liner. As the reader has likely guessed the Hallorans are passengers on the Titanic, and while Ned survives the disaster, his parents do not. Upon Ned’s return to Ireland the family’s Anglo-Irish landlord wants to do something for him in order to make up for what he went through, so Ned is offered the chance to go away to school in Dublin. There he becomes a student of Saint Enda’s, a secondary school for boys, and meets headmaster Pádraic Pearse. Inspired by Pearse’s teachings, Ned becomes a devoted nationalist and his life intertwines with those of prominent Irishmen and women who will play roles in the 1916 Rising, including James Connolly, Tom Clarke, and Countess Markievicz. As events unfold and the characters draw ever closer to the climactic rebellion, Ned grows from schoolboy to soldier and falls in love.

One look at the bibliography speaks volumes about both the amount of research Morgan Llywelyn has done and her dedication to historical accuracy. Events leading up to the rebellion and actions during it occurred largely as they do in her retelling and the only fictional aspects are the original characters that she has so carefully crafted. Llywelyn uses historical figures as major characters including Tom Clarke, who really did own a tobacco store around the corner from the General Post Office, and charismatic leader Pádraic Pearse.

As related in the novel, James Connolly’s ankle was shattered by a sniper shot during the Rising and he lay on a bed of wheels reading detective fiction. Unlike the other leaders of the Rising, Connolly was not held in Richmond Barracks or Kilmainham Gaol following his surrender but in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham across the street. Although unable to stand, Connolly had still been sentenced to execution by firing squad for his role in the Rebellion so he was carried to the prison courtyard by stretcher, tied to a chair, and shot on May 12, 1916.

Llywelyn also accurately documents the evacuation of women from the GPO during the Rising. All women except for two nurses and James Connolly’s secretary were evacuated from the premises before the surrender. Llywelyn adds to this number the fictional Síle Duffy. Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell carried a red cross flag and acted as the go-between while terms of surrender were negotiated. At 3:45 PM on April 29th Pearse signed the document of unconditional surrender, stating:

“In order to prevent the further slaughter of Dublin citizens, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, the members of the Provisional Government present at headquarters have agreed to an unconditional surrender, and the commandants of the various districts in the City and County will order their commands to lay down arms.”

1916 contains a tremendous amount of research, but what could be a dry account of the Easter Rising becomes a fascinating historical but also literary tale in Llywelyn’s capable hands. The familiar names of the Rising leaders are given personality and depth, but her fictional characters are every bit as engaging as the historical ones. Protagonist Ned Halloran has flaws but is someone the reader will root for, and although the fates of many of the main characters are already known to anyone familiar with the period, the lives of Llywelyn’s fictional characters are less predictable.

Obviously I appreciate the tremendous amounts of research that went into this novel, as evidenced by the lengthy bibliography and extensive footnotes, and I don’t think that the history detracts from a passionately told story. In fact the only criticisms I have to offer are that Precious, the orphaned child Ned rescues, never develops beyond the precocious child cliche, and that the storyline involving Ned’s sister Kathleen comes to an abrupt end, although it might be resolved in the next novel of the series. 1916 is the first novel of five in Llywelyn’s “Irish Century” series, which continues with 1921, 1949, 1972, and 1999, and I look forward to devouring the rest of the series and to reading more of her many historical novels.

Verdict: This is the ideal work for historical fiction for me. Passionate, interesting, and accurate, this look at Irish history will delight all. Highly recommended.


Filed under Ireland Reading Challenge, Irish History

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

This is my second review for the 2010 Period Drama Challenge hosted by Lights, Camera…History!

Set in rural County Cork, the 2006 Palme D’Or winner The Wind That Shakes the Barley is the story of Damien and Teddy O’Donovan, two brothers (played by Cillian Murphy and Pádraic Delaney respectively) who take opposite views on the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

The film begins in 1920 with a hurling match between young men. After the game they are confronted by the Black and Tans, an armed force employed by the Royal Irish Constabulary. Although he witnesses the fatal beating of his friend Micheail, who refuses to say his name in English, Damien elects to pursue his medical studies at a prestigious London hospital. But as he prepares to leave town, Damien sees a railway guard and the train driver resist armed British forces. The guard is beaten and Damien chooses to stay behind and help, subsequently joining his more militant brother Teddy as a member of the IRA.

The IRA column promptly infiltrates an army barracks for guns, which they use to assassinate four British Auxiliaries in a local pub. The brigade is captured after an Anglo-Irish landowner presses his servant Chris Reilly, a teenage IRA member, into revealing their location. All are set to be executed the next morning but a sympathetic Irish officer helps all but three prisoners to escape. Unfortunately Chris’ part in their capture means that the brigade have orders from Headquarters to execute him as a traitor. The act is performed by Damien, who has known him since he was a child. “I’ve crossed the line now Sinéad…I can’t feel anything,” he tells his sweetheart afterwards.

Further acts of violence on both sides persist until a truce is declared and the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed, but the Treaty divides the IRA and the brothers. While Teddy argues that the terms are a starting point and that more gains can be made in the future, Damien believes that the war must continue until complete independence form Great Britain is achieved.

Damien (Cillian Murphy) joins the IRA.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley features fictional characters but historical events and figures are mentioned, such as socialist leader James Connolly. While awaiting execution, Dan and Damien discuss Connolly’s ideas, and Dan says that he saw the man speak at the Dublin Lock-out which occurred between August 1913 and January 1914. The sport of hurling, played in the opening scene of the movie, also has a historical basis. Many members of its Gaelic Athletic Association had been connected to the 1916 Easter Rising, so by 1918 the British government banned the organization completely. Yet the sport continued to be played as an act of Irish defiance.

The title of the movie comes from a poem of the same name. Written by 19th century poet Robert D. Joyce, “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” is about a rebel soon to take part in the doomed 1798 rebellion. The poem has since been set to music and performed by many artists. The ballad is used in the movie at Micheail’s funeral.

Of course the most controversial part of the film is the atrocities committed by the Black and Tans, often ex-soldiers who had fought in the trenches. The Wind That Shakes the Barley has been criticized by a minority for glorifying the IRA but while the audience is led to sympathize deeply with the IRA, I don’t think that the violence is glorified. Before shooting Chris Reilly, Damien comments to his friend, “I studied anatomy for five years, Dan. And now I’m going to shoot this man in the head. I’ve known Chris Reilly since he was a child. I hope this Ireland we’re fighting for is worth it.” This isn’t a film about the glorious tactics of the IRA, it’s a brutal story about the devastating effect that violence has on people. Discussing the IRA and the Black and Tans, historian Calton Younger sums up the conflict best by writing:

“The Irish fighters dealt out shrewd and relentless death to the invader. The forces of the Crown struck back with ever less pity or scruple. Terror was met with terror. Atrocity was piled on atrocity in a ghastly game of tit for tat that seemed as if it could have no end. Who began it did not matter anymore. Each blow was an answer to the one before, and a prelude to the next. The British government condoned the tactics of its servants and protected them with the starkest lies while raising pious hands in horror as they reported the outrages of their adversaries. As always, the bitter truth was that neither side had much to be proud of.”

Part of the charm of this film is that it doesn’t depict the perfect Hollywood world of ideal speeches. Its characters speak realistically, talking over one another and sometimes stuttering, which I believe draws the viewer in and makes them feel a part of the movie. The film also contains what I consider one of the best political debates to be shown on film as IRA members debate the Pro-Treaty and Anti-Treaty sides:

Director Ken Loach filmed the movie in rural County Cork and the Irish countryside is beautiful. Some viewers will have trouble understanding the thick Cork accents used by most of the main characters at first, but I found that it became easier to understand as I continued to watch and the dialect became familiar.

The film does a wonderful job of re-creating the time period and is so engaging because it examines history in a regional light, looking at how the Anglo-Irish Treaty and guerilla warfare affected average citizens in rural Ireland. The acting is also excellent with Cillian Murphy in particular standing out. His Damien displays all the conflict that a doctor who must take action against a friend should display, but Pádraic Delaney is also wonderful as brother Teddy. This is not an easy movie to watch but it’s absolutely brilliant and provides an important look at the motivations, and events behind this turbulent time in Irish history. In The Wind That Shakes the Barley violence divides families and causes a doctor to kill in cold blood. Losses occur on both sides and no one remains immune to the violence. That is the tragedy of this powerfully moving film.

1 Comment

Filed under Irish History, Period Drama Challenge

The Historical Tourist spends St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin

The view of O'Connell Street in Dublin from a pub window.

March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day, a day of celebration marked by pints, parades, and ‘the wearing of the green’, but how did this holiday start?

The day celebrates Saint Patrick, who was born in Roman Britain and kidnapped by Irish raiders at the age of sixteen. He remained a shepherd slave for six years until directed to escape by a vision. Fleeing captivity, he landed in France and studied to become a priest. In 432 AD Patrick returned to Ireland as a bishop in hopes of converting the Irish to Christianity. Although Patrick never mentioned it in his autobiography Confessio, the shamrock has become associated with his name due a legend in which he used the three leafed plant to explain about the Holy Trinity. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated each year on the day he is believed to have died – March 17th.

Spectators hang from the statue of Daniel O'Connell to view the parade.

St. Patrick’s Day has likely been celebrated in Ireland since the sixteenth century, but did not become an official public holiday in the country until 1903. The first St. Patrick’s Day parades took place not in Ireland but in Boston, which claims the world’s first celebration in 1737, and New York City, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through the city in 1762. The first parade in Ireland wasn’t held until 1931.

Only in the 1990’s did the Irish government begin using the holiday to showcase Ireland’s culture and attract tourism. This year the St. Patrick’s Festival group celebrates their 15th year, having grown from a three day event to a five day festival. An estimated 675,000 people attended the 2009 parade in Dublin and the Historical Tourist was lucky enough to be one of them!

A float in the 2009 Dublin parade.

The Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin begins at 12 PM in Parnell Square and winds down O’Connell Street. If you want a good view of the parade be sure to get there early. The Historical Tourist and her roommates took their time and arrived late. As a result we didn’t see much over the crowd of green hats! Last year’s parade included floats to celebrate Ireland’s culture and history, including a bookcase symbolizing Ireland’s contribution to literature. Important Irish writers include W.B. Yeats, James Joyce and, of course, Oscar Wilde.

Spectators could turn their tongues green for the holiday by purchasing a green ice cream cone, a shamrock shaped lollipop, or even green cotton candy! I opted for the ice cream.

We all scream for green ice cream!

After the parade I did what every person of legal age in Dublin was doing – I had a pint! While my friends bravely ordered a Guinness, The Historical Tourist, who has never developed a taste for alcohol, stuck to a pint of cider. I also had a shamrock painted on my cheek for the day.

This year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin will contain over 3000 performers and has the theme “Extraordinary World”. As usual, the five day festival will also include a carnival with a giant wheel in Merrion Square and a celebration of the Irish language and of music.

Having my face painted for St. Patrick's Day in Dublin.

An interesting article on the fact and fiction of St. Patrick’s Day can be found here, explaining the association of Saint Patrick with the colour green among other things.

I wish you all a grand St. Patrick’s Day!


Filed under Irish History, The Historical Tourist

Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance

Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance by Gyles Brandreth. Touchstone, 2007.

This is my first novel for the 2010 Ireland Reading Challenge.

Narrated by Robert Sherard, Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance is the first of a planned nine book series of mysteries featuring the witty writer as an amateur sleuth. The novel begins in 1889 with Oscar introducing Sherard to his new friend Arthur Conan Doyle, whose A Study in Scarlet is causing a sensation. When Oscar Wilde finds the naked body of his sixteen-year-old friend Billy Wood, an artist’s model, he is inspired by the fictional Sherlock Holmes to take on the case himself. Yet before he can investigate the murder, he must prove that there has been one. When Oscar returns to the crime scene the next day he finds that the body has been removed and the room cleaned, with a single spot of blood the only sign that any foul play has occurred. Not prepared to leave the case solely in the hands of Scotland Yard, Oscar uses deductive reasoning and observation to investigate the case himself. Robert Sherard, an aspiring poet and journalist in the middle of a messy divorce, serves as the Watson to Oscar Wilde’s Holmes.

Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance offers not one historical figure but three. Surprisingly, Wilde and Conan Doyle did actually know one another. Both were invited for dinner by an American literary publication called Lippincott’s Magazine, which was searching for talent. The dinner resulted in commissions for both men; a further Sherlock Holmes story from Conan Doyle (The Sign of Four), and a novel from Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray). In his autobiography Memories and Adventures Conan Doyle wrote that he and Wilde became friendly although it was a distant relationship that grew more distant as Wilde’s reputation became questionable.

Narrator Robert Sherard is also a historical figure. As noted in the novel, he was the great grandson of the poet William Wordsworth and a loyal friend of Oscar’s. He wrote some of the earliest biographies of Wilde, including The Story of an Unhappy Friendship (1902), The Life of Oscar Wilde (1906), and The Real Oscar Wilde (1917). As a historical biographer of Wilde he is the obvious choice for a Watson who can record his friend’s cases.

Part of what makes this story so enjoyable is the author’s use of Wilde’s trademark wit. In a Q&A at the back of the novel Brandreth explains that Oscar did actually try out lines on his friends and if he liked them would go on to use them in his works. Some remarks are instantly recognisable as lines Wilde actually used, such as “work is the curse of the drinking classes.” Brandreth also works in details such as the death of Oscar’s sister Isola in childhood and his tradition of dressing in mourning on his birthdays. In explanation Oscar once said, “this happens to be my birthday, and I am mourning, as I shall henceforth do on each of my anniversaries, the flight of one year into nothingness, the growing blight upon my summer.” Although Wilde was from an Anglo-Irish Protestant family, he had a life-long interest in Catholicism which culminated in a deathbed conversion. This interest is shown in the novel through his knowledge of hagiology.

I approached this novel hesitantly because the task of crafting original dialogue for one of the wittiest men who ever lived seemed nearly impossible to complete. How could any author hope to capture this extraordinary author and turn him into a sleuth? Rarely have I been so glad to be proven wrong. Brandreth so effectively shapes dialogue for Wilde that the reader can’t tell what lines the dramatist actually said and which have been invented for him. Wilde’s friendship with Conan Doyle and admiration for the deductive detective give him the perfect motivation to take on the role of sleuth and the flawed but loyal Sherard is an effective narrator.

I must confess that while I love mysteries, I don’t have the mind either to write or solve them. As a child reading the “Clue” series I often flipped straight to the answer instead of trying to solve the case, but in Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance even I could figure out some of the answers. Plot isn’t the number one reason to read this book though, that slot belongs to the charming and engaging Oscar Wilde. I thoroughly enjoyed his Holmesian deductive style and his easy wit.

Overall this is a fun romp through Victorian England that promises to be the beginning of a great series. There are two others currently published of a planned nine novels and I look forward to diving into the next mystery (which features Dracula novelist Bram Stoker and the introduction of Lord Alfred Douglas) and to spending more time with Brandreth’s Oscar Wilde.

Verdict: The title is a groaner but Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance is absolutely worth reading.


Filed under Ireland Reading Challenge, Irish History, Mystery March

Amazing Grace

This is my first review for the 2010 Period Drama Challenge hosted by Lights, Camera…History!

Set in the Georgian era, Amazing Grace tells the story of William Wilberforce (played by Ioan Gruffudd), a Member of Parliament who became a leader in the movement for abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain. Although discouraged by his latest defeat and physical ailment, Wilberforce is persuaded to tell the story of his anti-slavery campaign to the interested young Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai). The film then flashes back fifteen years to the beginning of Wilberforce’s political career.

Initially unable to decide between doing “God’s work” or the work of a political activist, he is encouraged by his old Preacher John Newton (Albert Finney), a former slave ship captain who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace”, and by his friend William Pitt the Younger (Benedict Cumberbatch), who at 24 became the youngest Prime Minister of England, that he can do both. Fellow abolitionists Thomas Clarkson, Olaudah Equiano, and Pitt’s political rival Charles James Fox (Michael Gambon assist him in this long quest, but they have powerful opposition that includes the Duke of Clarence and Banastre Tarleton.

Wilberforce seeks John Newton's advice.

Watching Amazing Grace for the first time I actually rolled my eyes at the opening scene. In it Wilberforce, although clearly unwell, stops his carriage and trudges through the mud to tell a driver beating his horse that if he leaves it alone it may recover. This is the audience’s first glimpse of Wilberforce and defending an animal seemed like such a cliche way to introduce him as the hero of the piece. Much to my surprise, this scene did actually occur! William Wilberforce was not only a noted lover of animals but a founding member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (today the RSPCA).

Obviously my opinion of the movie improved as it went on and Amazing Grace has become one of my favourite films. Although it’s a minor detail, as an admirer of William Pitt the Younger I both noticed and was impressed by the fact that Pitt almost always has a glass in hand. After an attack of gout at fourteen, a doctor advised the future Prime Minister that a bottle of port a day was the cure. He continued to drink excessively throughout his life and Henry Addington (Prime Minister between 1801 and 1804) commented that “Mr. Pitt liked a glass of port very well, and a bottle better”.

Wilberforce and Pitt discuss politics.

An important turning point in the film occurs when Pitt throws a dinner party designed to encourage his friend to take on the abolition of the slave trade. Although a dinner did occur, it was organized not by Pitt but by Thomas Clarkson, who Wilberforce had already met. When asked to introduce the issue in Parliament, Wilberforce replied that he “had no objection to bring forward the measure in Parliament when he was better prepared for it, and provided no person more proper could be found”. Two months later he made his final decision to present a Bill and Pitt urged him on.

Amazing Grace includes Wilberforce’s illness, which is usually thought to have been colitis. Although he was dependent on opium all his life, Wilberforce claimed that it never effected his mind and his dosage did not increase over time. Despite the opium, his illness was a constant worry and the film depicts an argument between Wilberforce and Pitt when the former’s illness prevents him from presenting his Bill to Parliament. As Prime Minister, Pitt could not openly be seen to oppose the King and refuses to present the Bill in his friend’s place. In actuality, Wilberforce’s illness didn’t cause a rift but may have brought them closer together. Although Pitt carefully avoided giving his own opinion, he did argue in Parliament that the slave trade should be discussed. Wilberforce wrote,

“Pitt, with a warmth and of principle and friendship that have made me love him better than I ever did before has taken on himself the management of the business, and promises to do all for me if I desire it, that, if I were an efficient man, it would be proper for me to do myself.”

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is Barbara Spooner, who is presented as a passionate intellectual equal. Unfortunately Spooner, while physically attractive, was actually timid and made a poor hostess. The whirlwind courtship, however, is true. Despite an eighteen year age difference, Wilberforce fell deeply in love with Barbara on sight. Just eight days after they first met he proposed. The wedding occurred six weeks later.

Wilberforce tells his story to Barbara Spooner.

Amazing Grace also casts Home Secretary Henry Dundas as something of a villain for his betrayal of Pitt and Wilberforce by inserting the word “gradual” into the motion for abolition. Yet Dundas was one of Pitt’s best friends and allies. Pitt biographer William Hague even suggests that “gradual abolition” was certainly discussed between Pitt and Dundas and may even have been Pitt’s fallback plan after outright abolition was defeated in the House.

Amazing Grace is largely accurate, and those things it does change are lesser details, but I do have to wonder about the continued references to “Lord Charles Fox”. Fox always served in the House of Commons and never held the title ‘Lord’. Conversely, the Duke of Clarence (the future William IV), depicted in the House, was a son of the King and would have been a member of the House of Lords. Tarleton and Dundas are also given the title ‘Lord’ incorrectly. Other minor inaccuracies are the presence of Wilberforce at Pitt’s deathbed (unfortunately Wilberforce did not make it in time) and the last speech of the film, delivered in the House of Commons by Charles James Fox. Although it’s a lovely moment, Fox died only months after Pitt and was not alive in 1807 to give a speech praising Wilberforce.

Amazing Grace isn’t the world’s best film but it remains one of my all-time favourites. The cast is great, including legends like Michael Gambon and Albert Finney along side the queen of period dramas Romola Garai, and I continue to find it very touching. It could easily be just a religious film but by downplaying some of Wilberforce’s evangelism it is spiritual without being preachy. Although it plays with dates and details, Amazing Grace doesn’t omit or change anything that significantly alters the story and is largely an accurate tale of the political battle for the abolition of the slave trade. It is a film initially about youth, and then about perseverance and I highly recommend it.


Filed under British History, Period Drama Challenge