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A life of sacrifice: Movies about Mother Teresa and other real-life heroes

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These real-life heroes inspire us all in ways great and small.

On October 19, 2003 — 15 years ago yesterday — Mother Teresa was officially beatified. The Nobel Peace Prize winner died six years earlier, but her influence not only in the Catholic Church, but around the world, had not dissipated. Even today, her name is a byword for compassion, dedication and lifelong sacrifice.

It’s not too surprising that Teresa inspired two movies after her death, and both are available online. You can watch the three-hour Mother Teresa, a 2003 made-for-television movie starring Olivia Hussey (best known as Juliet from 1968’s Romeo and Juliet) with an Amazon Prime account. The Letters, starring Juliet Stevenson and released in 2015, is a powerful, more layered look at Mother Teresa’s life and ministry. It’s based in part on her personal correspondence, some of which speaks with raw honesty about her doubts and the silence of God. But those letters do nothing to dim the film’s picture of an inspiring woman. (Fun fact: I talked with the director William Riead when the movie was released. You can read it here.) That film is available to stream on Netflix.

But as remarkable as Mother Teresa was, others have dedicated themselves to worthy causes, sacrificing a good chunk of their lives for a better, brighter cause. And many of their stories have found their way to the screen. Here’s a look at some of them.

Amazing Grace (2006, PG)

AMAZING GRACE,2004
FourBoys Films | Fair Use

This film offers a bit of a twofer. The movie is really the story of William Wilberforce (played by Ioan Gruffudd), the famed British politician who, after a dramatic religious conversion, dedicated almost the remainder of his days to eradicating the slave trade. In every new session of Parliament, Wilberforce introduces a motion to that effect, earning him ridicule and hatred from his fellow parliamentarians. But through some clever back-door legislation and dogged determination, Wilberforce eventually succeeds — 20 years after the fight began. Who else to watch for? “Amazing Grace” composer John Newton, played by Alfred Finney. We see him sweeping a church floor, dressed in sackcloth — visible penance, we learn, for his years as a slave trader. He repented of his past and dedicated the rest of his life to God and helping Wilberforce eradicate the slave trade. Amazing Grace is a competent film featuring some moving performances (including that of a rather young Benedict Cumberbatch). It’s available to rent on several streaming outlets for $2.99.

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