Although directed by an Australian and released by the Queensland based Heritage Films, the movie was shot entirely in the US and represents a bold venture for independent film makers.
Those familiar words of John Newton’s hymn, Amazing Grace, feature large throughout the film and although Newton’s experience as the captain of a slave vessel in 1748 forms part of the screenplay, the movie is also about another man who also searches for freedom.
The 100 year separation of Newton (Bernhard Forcher) and slave Samuel Woodward (Cuba Gooding Jr) and his family in 1856 enables Cousens to have their two experiences share the rawness of what was acceptable human behaviour in generations past, the treatment (or perhaps mistreatment) of slaves in captivity.
A bold escape from the plantation near Richmond, Virginia takes Woodward and his family on a journey not without incredible danger and risk. A secret network of ordinary people known as the ‘Underground Railroad’ guide the family on their journey north to Canada. They are relentlessly pursued by the notorious slave hunter Plimpton (William Sadler). Hunted like a dog and haunted by the unthinkable suffering he and his forbears have endured, Samuel is forced to decide between revenge and freedom.
John Newton, the Captain of a slave trader sails from Africa with a cargo of slaves, bound for America. On board is Samuel’s great grandfather whose survival is tied to the fate of Captain Newton. The voyage changes Newton’s life forever in the tempest of the night, and assisted by words written by his fiancée, Mary (Anna Sims), he creates a legacy that will inspire Samuel and the lives of millions for generations to come.
At times the movie is confronting in the careful but nevertheless necessary depiction of the brutality and treatment of salves.
The musical score contains the familiar and something new and is skilfully combined with drama, comedy and cameo minor speaking role of the Director himself.