DVD reviews: 12 years a slave

12 Years a Slave

Directed by Steve McQueen

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch

Certificate 15

The competition for the Oscar for best film of 2013 was very hard fought. With great movies like American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street and Captain Phillips all in contention. Nevertheless, 12 Years a Slave, the third full length feature by British director Steve McQueen, finally took the prize.

Let’s get one thing straight McQueen doesn’t do soft and fluffy. His first film “Hunger” starred an emaciated Michael Fassbender as Irish Republican Bobby Sands leading a hunger strike in a Northern Ireland prison. In “Shame” he had Fassbender as a sex addict whose compulsion leads him down a very dark road and in 12 Years ( yes Fassbender is in it) he zeros in on, possibly, man’s greatest inhumanity to fellow man.

fassbender shouting

Based on the true memoirs of Solomon Northup. A free black man and an accomplished violinist he lead a comfortable lifestyle with his wife and children in upstate New York prior to the American Civil War. He is duped by two strangers with the promise of lucrative work and sold into slavery. Shipped out to the cotton fields of Louisiana he suffers at the hands of his owners and witnesses barbaric acts perpetrated on his fellow slaves. A man of intense principal he never loses faith that he will be freed and a chance meeting with an abolitionist (nicely underplayed by Brad Pitt) culminates in his eventual release.

solomon sign

By the way that was not a plot spoiler the clue is in the title.

The period detail is exceptional and the cinematography sumptuous creating a truly immersive experience. Of course the acting is superb. As Northrop, Chiwetel Ejiofor creates a character that we-the audience- totally believe in. Fassbender as maniacal slave owner Epps emits a brooding malevolence but it is Lupita Nyong’o (who richly deserved her best actress Oscar) that will tear your heart apart with her portrayal of abused slave girl Patsey.

period detail

The film is not an easy watch at times. There are scenes of intense cruelty that some viewers may find hard to stomach but it is an intensely worthwhile movie that will reward your perseverance and remind you that no more that 150 years ago human beings were actually treated as chattels in America. Sadly in some parts of the world that is still the case.

The film is, as near as “damn it”, faultless and richly deserves the accolades and the many awards it has won. What I find truly amazing is that this is only the director’s third outing. Where does he go from here?

Rating 5 out of 5 stars.

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If you liked this you’ll also like: Shame, Hunger, I am Slave, Django Unchained, Captain Phillips, The Help, The Butler, Driving Miss Daisy