Saturday, December 14, 2013

David Bruce's "The Life of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton"

David Bruce is an assistant professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, The Life of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton: Extraordinary Perseverance:
The Life of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton: Extraordinary Perseverance is a biography of one of Great Britain’s most prominent nineteenth-century social activists. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t scream box-office bonanza, so I can’t imagine anyone pursuing this as a cinematic project. On the other hand, I honestly think it would make a nice independent art-house film.

Although surrounded by many other reform-minded people, I consider Thomas Fowell Buxton to be the first true social reformer – that rare breed that is concerned with all of humanity, not just one or two select causes. An acolyte of William Wilberforce, Buxton is best known for his efforts to end British slavery in 1834. In truth, he was a man of many interests and focused much of his life on punishment and prison reform, providing charity and support for the poor, ending the centuries-old restrictions placed on Great Britain’s Catholics, and furthering education and religious training overseas. Along the way, he and his family experienced tremendous losses, personal and professional, and it is amazing that he never lost his focus or faith. For the most part, Buxton has been forgotten by mainstream historians; nowadays, he tends to stand in Wilberforce’s shadow. It’s really tragic – he literally went from being very well-known and respected, to being reimagined as a “minor supporting character” in less than a half-century. What better way, therefore, to reacquaint people with one of the more important activists in history than with his own movie?

Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton was an energetic social activist who was well-known for his meticulous research and long speeches. Personally, I like either Paul Bettany or Daniel Day-Lewis, as both are outstanding actors who have had much success with characters that are at once intelligent, determined, sincere, and a tad socially awkward. Additionally, both men bear a slight facial resemblance to Buxton and look good in period set pieces. It’d be a hard choice, to be honest – although if I were aiming for complete accuracy, then Bettany gets the nod, as he shares Buxton’s 6’4” frame.

Hannah Gurney Buxton was usually characterized as a dutiful, supporting wife, who also happened to be an exceptional, natural beauty. She was also an extremely resilient woman who experienced more than her fair share of tragedy and pain. I have long been a fan of Amy Adams and think that she’d make an excellent Hannah, although I think Winona Ryder might be a good choice, as well.

Buxton’s mother, Anna Hanbury Buxton, bore six children, lost one, and was widowed, before she reached the age of thirty. She had no problem in allowing her surviving children the freedom they’d wanted, but was also quick to command respect when necessary. Buxton suggested that his mother may have suffered from some mental health issues (which are understandable, considering some of the things her family experienced).  Emma Thompson, who I think would be perfect in the role.

Gabriel Byrne would make an interesting William Wilberforce, a man who recognized that his increasing physical limitations would prevent him from realizing his life’s goal of abolishing slavery. Stephen Dillane was excellent as Thomas Jefferson in HBO’s John Adams, and I think he would be equally as intriguing as Hannah’s brother, the evangelist Joseph John Gurney. Finally, I would cast Kate Winslet as Hannah’s older sister, the noted prison reformer Elizabeth Fry.
Learn more about the book and author at the Extraordinary Perseverance website.

--Marshal Zeringue