Director Steve McQueen taps into the subject of slavery from a fresh angle in this epic piece of cinema.
Set in 1841, the film is based on the true of story of Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Northup is a free black man living in New York with his wife and two
children. He is a carpenter and gifted fiddle player who has the respect
of his community.
However, one day he is enticed to join a tour with a circus by two
men who appear amazed by his talent. After a night of heavy drinking and
merriment with the men, Northup wakes up in a basement chained to the
floor and realises that he has been sold into slavery.
The fiddle player is shipped to New Orleans where he is to be given a
new identity and is viciously beaten to conceal his identity as a free
man. He is purchased by plantation owner William Ford (Benedict
Cumberbatch), a fairly kind master who is impressed by Solomon's
intelligence and courteous demeanour.
However, his overseer Tibeats exhibits a strong disdain for Solomon
which leaves William with no choice but to sell him on for his own
safety. His new master is Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a cold
hearted planter who believes his cruelty towards the slaves is justified
by the Bible. Although he has been stripped of who he is, Solomon
clenches on to the hope that he will break free from Epps' plantation
field and return to his family.
Slavery is a mammoth subject matter to work with and McQueen has
tackled it well - he certainly did not hold back. His desire to "tell
the truth" is blatant as a few scenes are physically uncomfortable to
watch. In stark contrast to this, the film was beautifully shot on real
plantations. There is no filter in sight which is considered a trademark
feature in films of this nature.
In making this film, McQueen has shone a light on women and their
status during this era, an aspect that has often been neglected. Kenyan
actress Lupita Nyong'o made her American film debut in this story as
Patsey who bears the brunt of Epps' inhumane acts.
Various elements of human nature is a theme that is threaded through
Compassion is shown through the character of Ford and
heartlessness through Epps. Epps displays an incredible sense of
selfishness, he even uses scripture for his own gain. The slaves are not
familiar with the Bible and he manipulates passages to make them
believe that they are in their rightful place.
The irony is the premise of the Bible is to set people free from
bondage. Scripture says that in the eyes of God, everyone is equal and
this truth is brought to Epps by Bass (Brad Pitt), a labourer from
Canada and the 'good Samaritan' Northup confides in.
Ejiofor gives an incredibly captivating performance as Northup which
could very well grant him an Academy Award nomination. He powerfully
depicts the strength of the human spirit and unbreakable hope, a theme
that is trumpeted in this story.
This is further supported by the film's
score. The slaves sing in the fields to keep their spirits up, which
speaks volumes about the relationship between the human spirit and
After an indulgent festive season, this sobering film about the
heights of human cruelty and the strength of the human spirit is well