Wilberforce and the anti-slavery campaigners in England.
Where I reside in south-east London, I am only three miles from Clapham Common which, 200 years ago, nurtured the Clapham Sect. They were a group of young men and women bent on changing hearts and minds in the British Empire.
As the ancient religious sects had a divine purpose in life, so did Clapham's. It would appear that the template of the life of Jesus of Nazareth was used by one of its founders, William of Hull, better known as William Wilberforce. Both lives were obviously guided by the same Spirit, instead of following a prescribed formula.
Looking at the development of William Cameron-Johnson's video, Wilberforce and the anti-slavery campaigners in England, I detect the same template at work in its production: the vision; the spawning of relationships around a common purpose; the gathering of friends in prayer; the sacrifice; and the fruit of many labours.
The tale of how the Clapham Sect evolved, and its work to abolish the slave trade and slavery itself, is an intricate narrative, drawing together familiar names from the history of the British Empire.
It starts with Wilberforce's rise to power and tripping down the corridors of Parliament, then to his servanthood to Christ and rounding on the moral decline in society, and ending only after the emancipation of slaves. How does Cameron-Johnson tell the story so well?
All but a few of the film's visuals are his hand-crafted paintings. Drawing or painting a series of portraits and scenes requires putting your heart into them and developing a respect for your subjects. As a sketch moves from drawing board to canvas, your respect may turn to a mixture of joy and love (though not instantly, for we artists are known to be fickle). This is Cameron-Johnson's secret.
He impresses on us his characterization of the Rev John Newton, standing in the middle of a wide road, a Bible pressed to his proud chest. This road might have led directly out of some English port, alluding to Newton's conversion away from slave trading. We see Middleton, the First Lord of the Admiralty, in a darkened room wearing an even darker expression, poring over charts with those around him plotting the sea campaign that would lead to Lord Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Portraits of Wilberforce himself are matched only by the appearances of another William, Pitt the Younger, the Prime Minister who played a major part in the life of his closest friend Wilberforce. Olaudah Equiano, well known to scholars of the history of Black Britain as the prominent writer who fought for and bought his freedom, is seen standing beside the Abolitionists. All the players are united by Cameron-Johnson's brush.
Each of the Clapham Sect is worthy of a tome himself. They all led exemplary lives in which they held the centre of many spheres of activity. How did Cameron-Johnson manage to avoid a film that was too densely packed or flitting from one life to another?
We artists are adept at making use of light and shade in order to emphasise and contrast the piece. Many sub-stories are woven into the film: Wilberforce's relationship with his wife; the resourceful Thomas Clarkson; the mournful Prince William Frederick; the music-loving Prince Regent; and the lyrical John Newton. All the characters add their own light and shade, the result being a well-balanced production.
The video is only 36 minutes long, and can be watched again and again. Indeed, it needs to be seen a second time and perhaps even a third, as we too easily forget the lives of such great people as William Wilberforce.
`Wilberforce and the anti-slavery campaigners in England', MRA Productions, 12 Palace Street, London SW1E 5JF, [pounds sterling] 16.50 inc p&p for individuals. UK schools and colleges should order the video, complete with A4 study pack, from: Educational Media Film and Video Ltd, 235 Imperial Drive, Rayners Lane, Harrow, Middlesex HA2 7HE, [pounds sterling] 33.25 inc p&p and VAT.
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|Publication:||For A Change|
|Article Type:||Video Recording Review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1998|
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