What deathly sway does director Steve McQueen hold over his muse Michael Fassbender? For Hunger, Michael dieted into losing 16 kilos. In Shame he cavorted naked with prostitutes. Now in 12 Years A Slave he is evil incarnate. We’re thinking hypnosis. Paul McKenna on speed dial. How else do you explain it?
12 Years A Slave is based on a true story. Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was a respectable, educated black man living in New York in 1841. A talented musician, with a wife and children, he had money, a place in society and, crucially, was a free man. Until one day falling victim to two con artists he found himself drugged, kidnapped and headed to the Deep South to be sold into slavery.
Initially landing at the hands of kindly cotton plantation owner Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), Solomon learnt keeping his head down and working hard led to tolerable living conditions. Sadly, this wasn’t to last. After an altercation with Tibeats (Paul Dano), a rogue employee of Ford, Solomon was sold on to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Actively, sadistically cruel, Edwin ruled his plantation with violence, beatings and terror. Pushed beyond points that would break most men, Solomon held his spirit until a chance encounter with Canadian liberal Bass (Brad Pitt) led to his liberation.
To date, being an inhabitant of the enlightened 21st century, historical slavery in the Deep South has seemed an impossibly alien world. But Solomon is an educated everyman like you and I, and watching him experience this unspeakably foul society makes it immediately, horribly real. It is very hard to watch in places. The violence and cruelty are absolutely brutal and the camera does not relent from showing you every detail in real time. Which is as it should be. It does its subject justice by portraying it as the abhorrent time in history that it was. An important and incredible film, visually stunning, beautifully directed and acted. Don’t miss it.
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