Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch
Director: Steve McQueen
Chilling true story of Solomon Northrup, a black man kidnapped from the North and sold into slavery in the South, and the 12 years it took to free himself.
Beautifully shot, and well paced, two key performances stand out. Solomon (Ejiofor) is a quiet, longing presence, naively hoping to free himself by speaking up or telling his story. His dignity in the face of suffering, and his hope to get free and home to his family make him an inspiring, enduring character. Patsy, the other tragic figure in the piece, is a small, quiet girl, whose ability to pick the most cotton has drawn the unwanted attention of her diabolical master (Fassbender), and therefore the ire of his wife. She is a tormented creature, who finds some solace in her friendships with Solomon and a neighbouring freedwoman. But unlike Solomon, there is no rescue for her, and when he is inevitably freed (as the title implies), the site of her watching him leave her behind is heart breaking.
The supporting cast are also excellent in portraying the differing stances that many people had towards slaves: the vengeful overseer, the weak master (he seems so nice, but he’s not nice enough to free his slaves), the sadistic slave owner, the shamed and impotently furious wife, the slave dealer who sees them as animals, the slave who becomes a concubine and has a measure of freedom, the friendly white man who can’t be trusted, and those who thought slavery was appalling… Examples from history reinforce these attitudes over and over, and here they are given life by an ensemble cast in all their terrible glory.
Why Is It A Must See Film: One of the best films to take an honest look at slavery since Roots, this isn’t The Help. I’d say it might actually understate to some degree the conditions and lives of slaves and slave owners in the South, but it’s still a shocking portrayal and a powerful film. That said, it is a strong testament to the human spirit, and is ultimately not a depressing film.
See It If: you feel like your life is hard, you’ll soon be grateful for how easy you’ve got it.