Based on an astonishing true story, Solomon Northup’s journey is not just tragic and degrading, but unbelievably uplifting. Set in 1850s America, McQueen beautifully illustrates the story of a free man sold into slavery who, along his travels, encounters a variety of unsavoury, dangerous and compassionate characters. Throughout, I clung to the hope that Solomon might finally be freed, feeling that if my eyes left the screen for even a second, Brad Pitt, in a moment of divine intervention, might swoop in and save our hero from destitution.
Whilst the film has been nominated for a bucketful of Academy Awards and Baftas, it seemed, rather depressingly, to have withered on the Golden Globes’ stage, only picking up one out of seven nominations. In fact, if Steve McQueen’s luck improves in time for March 2nd, he will become the first black film maker to win an Oscar for Best Director. Sometimes I wonder if we are still living in the 50s.
Whilst the performances from Chiwetel Ejiofer, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o are extraordinary to watch, it is the story itself which shines through. Having studied American slavery since the age of fourteen, not once had I come across Solomon Northup’s story. Now, Steve McQueen has reinvented and revealed the tale for the modern world, exposing the nitty-gritty behind a universally despised truth. 12 Years a Slave is, therefore, not a film for the faint-hearted. As a result, take plenty of tissues and be prepared to bury your head in your hands from time to time when the tale diverts into its violent and gruesome reality.
This eye-opening story ticked all the boxes and landed itself a slot in my top ten films. So, if you’re not currently booking the tickets, then I have regrettably failed in my duty. Overall, McQueen has crafted a beautiful tour de force. Plus, no sore bum this time.
Good luck for the Oscars, Steve.