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The John Newton Story

Animated / Drama
2021 / 30 minutes
Rating: 7/10

We know John Newton (1725-1807) as the former slave ship captain who repented and then wrote the amazing hymn Amazing Grace. In this Torchlighters episode, we get to hear the rest of his life story from the man himself. When an anti-slavery bill is brought to the British Parliament, one of the members goes to Newton to ask him to speak out on the issue. In response, an old Newton starts to share his dark history.

It is a story of constant rebellion – this was a sailor so salty that the other sailors complained about the filth coming from Newton’s mouth. It is also a story of a transformation wrought over many years: when Newton first became a Christian he stayed in the slave trade, going on to captain two slave ships for three voyages, transporting thousands of slaves in shameful conditions. This, it turns out, is why the Member of Parliament (MP) has come to Newton: since Newton captained slave ships as a Christian, the MP thinks he can convince Newton to speak out in favor of slavery. The MP has another reason to think Newton might help his cause: after attending the church that the older Newton now served as a pastor, the MP had never heard Newton preach against slavery.

Newton realizes that not only can he never speak for slavery, he must now, finally, begin to speak against it… no matter what it might cost him and his church. His congregation was made up of many who had ties to the slave industry.

Cautions

While the brightly-colored animation style might have parents thinking this is all-ages viewing, the topic matter means it is not so. The toughest scene is right at the start, where we’re shown a happy African village, and then the slavers come to kill and steal. It’s brief, lasting only a couple of minutes, serving as the visual background to a parliamentary speech given by Christian politician William Wilberforce on the evils of slavery. Man-stealing – a crime God punishes with death (Ex. 21:16) – is so brutal there’s no way to entirely mute the wickedness of it, so parents will need to watch the first few minutes to best judge whether their children will be able to handle it. I wouldn’t show this to my under tens.

There is one picture of Jesus briefly shown, in a book the Member of Parliament is reading.

I’ll also note the video leaves viewers with the impression that a young Wilberforce and the older Newton both saw the end of slavery in Britain. They did, together, help end British involvement in the slave trade – that happened in 1807 – but it wasn’t until 1833, many years after Newton’s death, that the slaves in Britain were finally freed.

Conclusion

My favorite part was the William Wilberforce speech, which bookends the presentation, beginning and ending it. Would that we could one day hear a Christian politician give such an impassioned speech in Parliament in defense of the unborn! This is one to watch with the family, or with a class, and discuss how we can and must rise to the defense of the unborn, never being afraid to raise their plight in the public square.

You can watch The John Newton Story for free at RedeemTV.com though you will have to sign up for an account. Check out the trailer below.


Up Next


Drama, Movie Reviews

Freedom

Drama 2014 / 94 minutes Rating: 7/10 Like many a film "inspired by true events," this isn't good history but it is pretty decent cinema. Freedom is really two stories in one, the first loosely based on the life of John Newton. He's the author of the hymn "Amazing Grace" and while the film gets the broad details of his life right – he was the captain of a slave trade ship, he did have an encounter with God on his ship, and he did turn his back on the slave trade – the timeline of those events has been greatly compacted. In real life, his rejection of the slave trade was a gradual shift over years and even decades, while in the film it seems more a matter of weeks. The second story takes place 100 years later, and is a fictional account of a family of slaves fleeing Virginia via the Underground Railroad. Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as the father, Samuel. He has his wife, son, and mother with him, and while his mother trusts in God's faithfulness for everything, Samuel has no interest in God. How, he asks, can any slave think God cares about them? It's unusual for a Christian film to ask difficult questions. While Samuel does come to God before film's end, both he, and we, are left with the realization that God might not give us all the answers we are after, or at least, not on this side of Heaven. What connects these two stories is a Bible that John Newton is supposed to have given Samuel's great grandfather when he was just a boy years ago. Samuel's mother still has it, and we take the leap back in time when she tells the story of how Newton came to give a Bible to a slave. Newton's "Amazing Grace" is the musical centerpiece to the story, but there are lots of other songs too. It isn't a musical, though – in musicals people just randomly start to sing instead of talk. Here most of the songs have a natural fit: characters sing because they are comforting someone, or as part of a performance, or they sing to pass the time. But whatever the reason they are singing, the music is very good! Cautions Freedom received an R rating for the violence that's done to the slaves. While many of the blows happen just offscreen, communicated more by sound than by visuals, it can be brutal. That makes this best suited for older teens and parents. While God's name is used throughout the film it is used appropriately, to either talk about Him, or to Him. There is one use of "damn." Conclusion One secular critic called this "an overly sentimental cinematic history lesson best suited for church and school groups" and while he meant it as a criticism, I'd just say he's nailed the target audience. The slave trade was brutal, and while this is too, it is only so in parts because the filmmakers didn't want to present an unvarnished look – they weren't trying to make a Schindler's List that'd leave everyone mute and depressed afterward. By presenting only some of the horror, they allow families to view and discuss it together with their older teens. Freedom could serve as an instructive introduction to this chapter of history... at least for teens and adults. ...


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