"Excuse me, ma'am, but this is by no means my intention; I make no inquiry myself, and should be sorry to have any made by my friends. When I am quite determined as to the time, I am not at all afraid of being long unemployed. There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something--Offices for the sale--not quite of human flesh--but of human intellect."
"Oh! my dear, human flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition."
"I did not mean, I was not thinking of the slave-trade," replied Jane; "governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater misery of the victims, I do not know where it lies. But I only mean to say that there are advertising offices, and that by applying to them I should have no doubt of very soon meeting with something that would do."
Amazing Grace takes place between 1782 to 1807, the bulk of Austin's life. Abolition was much talked about during this time, and we must assume Jane had some opinion on it (which we would like to deem "correct" by our modern standards), but attempting to pinpoint what her thoughts actually were through the fog of not only time, but also the radical changes in notions of equality developed over the past two hundred or so years, is pretty futile in my opinion. Though it is interesting to speculate and debate upon the matter, it is not my purpose behind this post. The film is fascinating - the story it tells, intensely moving (if a bit prettied up for the screen) - but what I find of particular interest, at least in the context of this blog, is the gorgeous chronology of the changes in fashion between the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, and a cast that is jam packed with Austen veterans.
Romola Garai, so very familiar as the heroine everyone loves to hate in last year's production of Emma, plays Barbara Spooner, the wife of Wilberforce. I wish I could find endless images of her costumes, which were one of my favorite parts of the film (particularly the bib front dress she wears as a bride), but few are to be had. Her Emma costar, Michael Gambon (Mr. Woodhouse), portrays a surprisingly endearing Lord Charles Fox (historically The Honorable Charles James Fox). Nicholas Farrell is Henry Thornton, Wilberforth's cousin, familiar as Mr. Musgrove in the 2007 production of Persuasion, while his wife, Marianne, is played by Sylvestra Le Touzel, memorable in her recent performance as Mrs. Allen in the 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abby. As soon as I saw her, however, I thought not of the silly shopaholic who provides such ineffective guardianship to her young companion, but of my very favorite portrayal of Fanny Price from the 1983 version of Mansfield Park. Ciaran Hinds represents the opposition as Lord Tarleton (historically General Sir Banastre Tarleton, titles being one of the bigger inaccuracies in the film), a far cry from his depiction of Captain Wentworth in the 1995 version of Persuasion, though both are military men. The remainder of the cast, though not known to us from Austen, have a multitude of costume drama credentials. All demonstrate their remarkable abilities in this film; there is not a weak performance amongst them.
The issues debated in this film - slavery, revolution, religion, morality - are the same as those that formed the intellectual discourse of Austen's era. Though she scrupulously avoided including politics in her novels, knowledge of the ideas that permeated her society undoubtedly help us develop a better understanding of who she was. Amazing Grace is a beautiful vehicle towards that end. I highly recommend it to all.