New on DVD: 'Amazing Grace' and 'La Vie en Rose'

French singer Édith Piaf and slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce are the subjects of two new biopics.

Amazing Grace (PG)

Movies featuring men in knickerbockers and powdered wigs usually include a duel to the death at dawn or at least a bodice-ripping boudoir scene. "Amazing Grace," the story of British antislavery crusader William Wilberforce, is not one of those films. But it does try awfully hard to inject some drama through scenes of men bellowing at each other during parliamentary debates. Wilberforce (gracefully played by Ioan Gruffudd) is a religious gent who follows his good friend William Pitt, soon to become Britain's youngest prime minister, into politics and zealously takes up the abolition cause. The story details how one person can make a difference, but a more interesting and dramatic film could have been made about Wilberforce's friend, John Newton (Albert Finney), a slave trader who had a conversion experience and repented by becoming a monk. It was he who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace." Grade: B–

– Stephen Humphries

La Vie En Rose (R)

Marion Cotillard ("A Good Year") is stunning in her portrayal of French chanteuse Édith Piaf. In light of a life marked by extreme poverty – she was discovered singing on the streets of Paris – addiction, and heartbreak, it's all the more moving to hear Piaf, near the end, dispense with regret before a packed concert hall as she sings "Non, je ne regrette rien." The single DVD bonus feature underscores the depth of Cotillard's transformation. In discussing how she became Piaf, it's clear the classically beautiful actress is nothing like the funny-faced singer she portrays. A convoluted chronology detracts somewhat from Cotillard's performance. Grade: B+ – Teresa Méndez

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