Slim and handsome at 66, Apted is testy about many things, in a game and charming way. He doesn’t like Toronto’s weather. Born in working-class London, he long ago abandoned the cold for California, where he currently heads the Directors Guild of America. In his DGA role, he’s annoyed by runaway Canadian film productions. He’s even more annoyed by U.S. and British politics. And political apathy.
In fact, his belief that “politics do matter” was one of his motives for doing the Wilberforce film: “It’s something I’ve wanted to do a film about for years. In my own tiny way, I wanted to restore some dignity, some understanding of the political process,” he says.
When the Amazing Grace project first came to him, it was a simple biopic. He had it refashioned into an account of alliances, determination and moral charisma. In reality, the small, slender, soft-spoken Wilberforce was nothing like the tall and glorious Ioan Gruffudd, who plays him in the film. “Why make him handsome and heroic? It is always the issue when you spend $30-million on a film,” Apted explains crossly. “Besides, I wanted the heroic side of politics.” . . .Many of those great reformers were Christians. “What I find so nauseating is people today don’t try to negotiate between the religious and the secular,” says Apted. “Wilberforce knew that you could not get anywhere unless you got down off your moral high horse.” Living in America, Apted resists the religious tide. But his brother back in England, a policeman for 30 years, is now a priest and, says Apted, is “dying to see the film.”
I wonder how Apted squares the idea that Wilberforce “got down off [his] moral high horse” with Wilberforce’s campaigns for “the Reformation of Manners” and “the Suppression of Vice and Encouragement of Religion”, which the film acknowledges only in passing, if that. And I don’t say that to be snarky, or because I think it is impossible to square those things; I am genuinely curious as to how Apted fits those things together.