February 23, 2007 marked the 200th anniversary of the British Parliment's vote to ban the slave trade. But the recognition of William Wilberforce, who lead an often lonely campaign to end the slave trade is not over. This month PBS stations will air The Better Hour: The Legacy of William Wilberforce.
Christianity Today gives it a favorable review:
A year ago, February 23, 2007, marked the 200th anniversary of the short Parliamentarian's tall triumph, with the passage of a bill banning the slave trade. That same day, the film Amazing Grace released to theaters, and there has been no shortage of Wilberforce-ian resources in the past year.
What has been missing is that middle-ground vehicle: the public television documentary. A biopic like Amazing Grace is an excellent medium to give audiences access to the emotions of great people and the most dramatic moments of their history. . . . But such films almost demand that the filmmakers play down the complexity of the history and rearrange the details in order to maximize the drama.
For those not yet ready to invest their time in reading a full-length biography, an hour-long documentary, airing throughout February on public television, is just the right bridge to better understanding.
The Better Hour: The Legacy of William Wilberforce does well what television documentaries do. It presents the basic facts of Wilberforce's dramatic life in a calm and orderly fashion, illustrates them with historical images, fleshes out the story with interviews with experts, and grounds it with a basso profundo narration (provided by Avery Brooks, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Captain Benjamin Sisko).
The interviews feature the authors of popular Wilberforce biographies—Kevin Belmonte, Eric Metaxas, John Pollock—and other founts of Wilberforce lore, including Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and David Isherwood, rector of the church in Clapham where Wilberforce and his friends found spiritual sustenance.
Unlike many accounts, this documentary emphasizes the importance of Wilberforce's circle of friends--and his Christian faith--in this battle:
Wilberforce's network of friends illustrates the complexity of his story. When people speak reverently of Wilberforce's legendary persistence, they create an image of a solitary hero standing against insuperable odds. But WW's perseverance and his multitude of other achievements were due in large part to his circle of intimates. The Better Hour points out his particular talent was for networking, an ability commonly found in effective politicians. Wilberforce's theater was the House of Commons, where he provided leadership to a group of about 30 members. There he acted his very public part in the drama of suppressing the slave trade. His friends were no less gifted, but many displayed their talents on other stages: Hannah More, the gifted playwright and poet, being a prime example.
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Likewise, little reform would have happened without faith in God. The Better Hour makes this clear in many ways, from the role faith played in launching Wilberforce into the long struggle, to the supportive role it played for him and his network of friends, to the sustaining power of faith for the slaves themselves. This is one story in which religion—Christian faith—plays a natural and positive role throughout.