This film biography of England’s great reformer was produced by J.Arthur Rank, whose studios in England sent forth a steady stream of excellent films during the 1940s and 50s. Headed by Leonard Sachs as the adult John Wesley, the fine English cast, supported by the kind of studio that can recreate the crowded streets of 18th Century England, vividly brings to life the major events that shaped and were shaped by the founder of Methodism. The script, however, with its stilted dialogue, make this a hard sell for modern audiences.
We see the five year-old Wesley, “a brand plucked from the burning” when his father’s parsonage was set afire—the film asserts that it was arson, the fires set by those inimical to the elder Wesley’s enthusiastic preaching. The Wesley brothers, Charles and John, form their holiness club at Oxford while studying for the ministry, but John still feels a sense of unease, correct doctrine and practice being unable to satisfy him. His unsuccessful ministry in Georgia ends with his returning, under criticism, to England, and then comes his famous conversion at Aldersgate, his heart “strangely warmed” as he heard the words from Martin Luther’s Commentary on Romans.
He (and Charles who had been converted shortly before) preaches with a new enthusiasm, one that alarms his staid fellow Anglican ministers, who kowtowed to the rich and the aristocratic. Shut out of the pulpits of the Anglican Church, Wesley began to preach outdoors, following the example of his Oxford classmate George Whitfield, whose evangelistic preaching drew thousands to hear a word of hope. Thus Wesley’s “the Methodists,” at first a term of derision, appealed to the lower classes, those neglected by the Anglican Church.
The film shows Wesley’s great capacity to grow and adapt to new situations. He was not in favor of going outside to preach in the fields at first, nor was he in favor of the laity preaching—until it was proven to him to be in accordance with the gospel. In London he finds a building suitable for his headquarters—and sees great irony in that it once was a factory for the manufacturing of canons (“swords into plowshares”!). The film, fifty years old this year, holds up well, and is not just for Methodists, but for all who want to know more about this great reformer credited by many historians with saving England from a bloody revolution like the one in France, because his gospel gave the destitute new hope and a sense of dignity.
Available for $19.99 (check their website for an even better price) from: Vision Video | P.O. Box 540 | Worcester, PA 19490. Customer Service Hours 8:00 am – 6:00 pm EST. (610) 584-3500 | (800) 523-0226. Check their online catalogue at visionvideo.com for the best Christian biography and church history films to be found anywhere!