Monthly Archives: July 2014
The majority of us wouldn’t have heard the name Solomon Northup before this movie was made and won’t even have realised his story. The same can be said for director Steve McQueen whose wife saw the book and bought it for her husband. It was on reading his story that he wanted to tell it to the world.
12 Years a Slave was the biography of Solomon Northup’s kidnapping and enslavement which lasted for 12 years and the book recalls those moments during those years. The movie captures Northup’s terrible ordeal on the big screen and the hard hitting, powerfully emotional storyline can be quite upsetting in places, but it is vital to tell the story exactly how it would have happened as this was the nature of slavery in the 1800’s.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the role of Solomon Northup, a well to do gentleman living a privileged life with a wife and two children. An accomplished violinist, Northup is approached by two gentlemen looking for a musician to accompany them on a tour where the pay is good and he would want for hardly anything. One evening during dinner the two gentlemen and Northup enjoy some good food and good wine. Northup consumes more than the other two and is put to bed, rather worse for wear. When he awakens his nightmare truly begins. He is no longer in his bed, but chained up in a basement beneath a building.
During the 1840’s black slavery was rife and many black Americans would be kidnapped and sold to wealthy white Americans to do back breaking tasks for no pay and very little food and water. The slaves are separated from families and in some circumstances children are sold as slaves separately and it’s these moments in which McQueen focuses on during the movie’s opening. They are hard to watch, but pivotal to the message portrayed.
Occasionally, black Americans would be kidnapped from the Masters they already work for and sold to a hazardous and tortuous life. In some instances the slaves are tracked down by their rightful masters and set free to live the life they were once living. Unfortunately for most, this is not always the case.
For Northup, despite his objections and pleads for his freedom, he finds himself whipped, beaten and nearly killed during his ordeal. He nearly finds solace in a man called Ford (the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch), but it’s Ford’s good nature that nearly causes his downfall and Northup is moved on and ends up working in Louisiana for cotton plantation owner Edwin Epps (portrayed by the captivating Michael Fassbender) and his wife known only as Mistress Epps – this is how she is also referred to in the book as her first name was never known. Mistress Epps targets one of the young slave girls for being slim and attractive and the object to Edwin’s drunk and debauched desires.
A helpless Northup can only look on as he and his comrades around him are whipped and tortured for poor work, he can only pray that solace will one day find him and that does in the face of a gentleman called Bass (played in a cameo role by Brad Pitt) that befriends Northup and risks his own life to help him.
Chiwetel Ejiofor was unsure whether to accept the role as Solomon Northup and he was undecided for a while before he decided to accept. In his mind he had an idea of how he wanted to play the role down to the finest detail and it wasn’t until he starting filming that the heat and humidity set in making it extremely difficult conditions to work in. Despite that, Ejiofor puts in a truly Oscar winning performance that any other actor would struggle to best. It was a travesty that he came come away from the Awards Ceremony empty handed as he played a truly blistering portrayal. An extremely difficult role to play, Ejifor really emphasises the pain, distress and hurt of slavery in his presentation. There are highly emotional scenes that will leave you on the verge of tears, not just due to the severity of the scene, but also due to the truly realistic performance he portrays.
Michael Fassbender should have also been close behind Ejiofo in the Awards stakes as he plays a truly magnificent captivation of Edwin Epps. The drunk, bully brutally raped women and beat the men if they hadn’t collected enough cotton from the fields. A truly difficult character to depict, Fassbender does so with ease.
Special praise also needs to be awarded to Lupita Nyong’o who plays the role of Patsey, the slave girl who works with Northup with Edwin Epps and his wife and is the victim of Mistress Epp’s violent jealousy. In her first major role she has the difficult task of bringing the heartbreaking tale of this slave girl to life and she brings the pure innocence and delicate nature of the character out in a vital role to the story. The sad fact is that it was never known what happened to this poor girl. Nyong’o deservedly winning the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role.
Steve McQueen’s vision of a true story is worthy of the superlatives that he will undoubtedly receive for it. The essence of the piece and the detail he explores was essential to telling the whole story in truth. It has it’s moments of distress and viewing is made difficult, but it is the true nature of the story that needs to be told and McQueen doesn’t hold back.
What we are left with is two hours of pure, cinematic glory and a section of a depraved history cast into the spotlight by a truly exuberating piece of work.
Quite possibly the best piece of cinema that you would be fortunate to witness.