Following on from the ciritcal success of Hunger and Shame, British director Steve McQueen brings to the screen an adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name.
Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man in 1841 New York. He is a successful musician and lives with his wife and children. When he’s betrayed by two men who promise him work he is sold into slavery where he remains for…well take a guess?
This is the first film I’ve seen of Steve Mcqueen and he’s produced a powerful and emotional movie. Its fair to say that 12 Years a Slave is not an easy watch-and nor should it be. Some viewers may be put off by the violence displayed in the film, and yes it is hard to watch at times. I know in some films the violence can seem gratuitous or just there to be controversal but the violence in 12 Years a Slave is a necessary part of the story. I”m not sure how you would tell Northup’s tale -or indeed any tale about slavery and not have the subject of violence play a major part.
British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is outstanding as Solomon. There are scenes where McQueen just keeps the camera on Ejiofor’s face and he is able to express so much pain and emotion with just a look. In some films-especially ones considered to be ‘Oscar-worthy’- no matter how well acted a performance is you’re always reminded that you’re watching a ‘performance’. Here Ejiofor transends so far into the role I was forgetting I was watching an actor-I was just seeing Solomon. Which must be one of the biggest compliment an actor can get (although I’m sure he’d rather have the Oscar than my praises 🙂 ). I’m glad Ejiofor is finally getting some recognition as he’s a talented and diverse actor-just watch him as the villian in sci-fi action film Serenity or as a drag queen in Kinky Boots.
McQueen’s lucky charm Michael Fassbender also shows why he’s one of the most in demand actors at the moment. His slave owner Epps is a vicious monster and can be hard to watch at times. Another standout is Lupita Nyong’o as one of Solomon’s fellow slaves Patsey forced to suffer so much at the hands of her master. I really hope we see more from her in the future as it’s an impressive turn from such a newcomer to the film scene.
What I also liked about this film is that it doesn’t fit easily into the usual Oscar movie of having to be an inspirational tale. Yes Northup does end up out of slavery but this was after 12 years of immense pain and torture, in which many slaves were left behind long after Solomon was freed. I’m glad McQueen doesn’t try to force in a sentimental message about the human spirit or something equally as twee. He just lets Soloman’s tale be told as simply as possible and it’s a great adaptation of one man’s story.
Rating5/5-powerful and emotional, this film deserves all the Oscar glories coming to it