12 Years A Slave


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Lupita Nyong'o and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years A Slave.
"If there is a flaw in this beautifully made film it is the relentless nature of evil"

This is the one to beat in the 2014 Oscar ceremony as irony slides effortlessly into overdrive. A black British director and lead actor. An African-American scriptwriter. An autobiographical memoir by an ex-slave. And the US award forecasters are standing up to be counted for a film that exposes the nation's ugly past.

In 1841 Solomon Northup was living with his family in upstate New York, an educated freed slave with a valuable musical talent. A year later, having been tricked, kidnapped and sold back into slavery, he is suffering deprivation and torture in the Deep South, with no rights and little hope.

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If it wasn't for director Steve McQueen's inspired rendition of a long forgotten book and Chiwetel Ejiofor's committed performance as Solomon, this might have been the flip side of Tarantino's Django Unchained.

There were good slave owners and bad ones. Take your pick. A sadist by the name of Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) moves centre stage. His attitude, not dissimilar to that of Leonardo DiCaprio's in Django, is rational.

"A man does what he likes with his property."

What he likes is sexually abusing young girls and publicly whipping any slave foolish enough to pronounce an opinion.

If there is a flaw in this beautifully made film it is the relentless nature of evil. "I will not fall into despair," Solomon tells himself and yet the agony awaits ecstasy in vain. There is no escape except suicide.

As in the Nazi concentration camps survival is ruthless. King Cotton rules with a rod of iron.

Humanity has left the plantation

Reviewed on: 01 Feb 2014
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12 Years A Slave packshot
A free black man is abducted and sold into slavery.
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Read more 12 Years A Slave reviews:

Jennie Kermode *****

Director: Steve McQueen

Writer: John Ridley, based on the book by Solomon Northup

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lupita Nyong'o, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Quvenzhané Wallis, Sarah Paulson, Paul Giamatti, Garret Dillahunt, Michael K. Williams, Taran Killam, Alfre Woodard, Scoot McNairy, Bryan Batt, Dwight Henry

Year: 2013

Runtime: 133 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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