The year before last I read an article about ‘Shame’ and promptly went to see it. It completely knocked me sideways. Emotionally exhausting, but mesmerising. I then went on to watch ‘Hunger’ and was greeted with the same feeling of distorted wonder. Like all Steve McQueen’s films, 12 years a slave is a brilliant, beautifully harrowing film.
The story is set in pre- civil war America, it focus’ on the true story of Solomon Northup, a freeman.
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of men, Serenity) is captivating and genuine, hesitate to take the part I couldn’t think of a better person to be Solomon.
He wakes up one morning after a night of celebrating, enslaved and any word otherwise is beaten out of him. Torn from his home and family, sold and forced to live as a slave he finds ways to survive while trying to maintain his dignity in the face of insurmountable oppression.
With back drops of deep swamps of Louisiana with nowhere to go, God fearing men drunk on their own rights, and a lynching or hanging bound to every word. It is a harsh time to battle to survive in.
We see Solomon suffer at the hands of many kinds of men, none more than Edwin Epps, a plantation owner played by Michael Fassbender (Shame, Xmen First Class).
Fassbender is a staple of McQueen’s films and molds unrecognisably into the vicious master with terrifying ease. Edwin Epps deeply flawed self-righteous nature contrasts Solomon’s nobility.
Will Solomon manage to regain his freedom and will he ever see his family again? Steve McQueen makes films that make you ponder and experience the pain and struggle of others in situations you could not imagine yourself in. With an unflinching eye he makes you look for just a little too long, enough for an unsettled feeling to creep in and demand your undivided attention.
12 Years a Slave is not a happy film, but an important one that I recommend without a doubt. It is brutally thought provoking, emotionally intense and devastatingly visceral. It is up for a mountain of film awards and it deserves all of them.