Grace in the Community
It's a tragedy when ever the news headlines mention a gunman entering a school and randomly killing students be it here in the UK or in America but it is even more shocking when it occurs in a peace loving Amish community. Now in fairness I had never heard of the tragic massacre at an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, it didn't make such big headlines here in the UK, although since watching "Amish Grace" I have learnt a lot. I've learned a lot because "Amish Grace" is one of the most powerful and fascinating TV movies I have come across, combining elements of fact and fiction to explore this emotional story and the amazing act of forgiveness that the Amish community exhibited in the wake of the tragedy.
So as already mentioned prior to watching "Amish Grace" I knew nothing of the school shooting on the 2nd October 2006 when a man entered an Amish School house, killing 5 girls, injuring 5 mores before then turning a gun on himself. It may have been huge news in America but here in the UK it didn't cause such a stir but I can understand why in America it did, not just because of it being a tragic school shooting but because of how the Amish community reacted by forgiving the deceased murderer and offering support to his wife and children. And as such it is a touching story, one which was always prime for being turned into a TV movie. And director Gregg Champion has done a good job of sensitively turning this hard hitting story into a movie whilst also delivering a fictional exploration surrounding how difficult it is to forgive.
Now it has to be said that "Amish Grace" starts quite slowly as we are taken back to before the shooting and into the Amish community. But whilst slow it gives us a nice look into how the Amish community operates, with it being all about the community, helping each other and sharing. And in a way that is one of the strengths of this movie as it does take us into the Amish world and allows us to understand their way of life more clearly. But at the same time we get the build up to the killing, especially that of Charlie who is angry at God for taking his baby girl on the day she was born.
Now where some movies would revel in the traumatic events which happened in side the school building director Gregg Champion is much more sensitive and doesn't show the morbid detail. Instead he focuses on the emotion and trauma of the moments after as the Amish community found themselves rocked by what happened with parents not knowing whether their daughter's were dead or alive and the chaos of all the children dressed the same identifying them being difficult for the police. It is a series of powerful scenes which are so emotional, much more emotional than I ever expected. But that is nothing compared to what comes next as a small group of Amish leaders and a father of a deceased girl visit Amy Roberts, the widow of the gunman and offer her their help.
In many ways that is the fact part, a bit of poetic licence has been used to turn it into a flowing movies but in general this is what happened and what caught the nation by surprise, that a community who has suffered loss would forgive so readily. What follows on from there is the fiction part as we watch one of the Amish mother's, Ida, struggle with her faith as she can't forgive the gunamn for what he did or Amy despite it not being her fault. But this fictional element is not so much about Ida's battle of faith but allows us to understand why the Amish would forgive so readily and how as part of their beliefs it is passing on the sorrow to God, cleansing their hearts of pointless hatred in doing so. And this is all just as powerful as we watch Ida as the only person who struggles with this and finds herself going against her husband's wishes by speaking to a reporter.
Now one of the most amazing things about "Amish Grace" is this is a story which is automatically emotional, you have the emotion of parents losing their children and then the emotion of them forgiving both the deceased gunman and his widow and all of this could have been so manipulative. But Gregg Champion restrains all the natural tendencies to deliver big manufactured emotion and instead allowing the natural emotion to take control. And it works because "Amish Grace" is a tear jerker but through it being a powerful story rather than through too many tricks.
Now Kimberly Williams-Paisley is in many ways the star of "Amish Grace", she plays Ida who struggles with forgiving and her faith having lost a daughter and it is her journey, her battles which we follow. And to be honest Williams-Paisley does a nice job of delivering the heart breaking emotion of a mother dealing with loss and sorrow. But in many ways it is a collective of good performances from Fay Masterson who plays reporter Jill through to Matt Letscher who plays Ida's husband Gideon which makes this movie so watch able.
What this all boils down to is that "Amish Grace" is a surprisingly good TV movie, one which takes a powerful and emotional true story and allows the natural power and emotion to drive it rather than trying to manipulate the audience. It does make you think whilst also shocking you in so many ways and is one of only a few TV movies which leave a lasting memory.