12 Years A Slave is the latest directorial effort by Steve McQueen. It is a heartbreaking story is about Solomon Northrup (brilliantly played by Chiwetal Ejiofor from Steven Spielberg’s 1997 film, Amistad). Based on Northrup’s memoir with a script written by McQueen and John Ridley, the story starts in 1841. Northrup is a gifted pianist living with his wife Anne (Kelsey Scott) and two small children in Saratoga, New York. An educated, gracious man, Northrup enjoys a very peaceful life of freedom as a carpenter. This is until he meets two entertainers who convince him to follow them to Washington DC with a promise of more work. After their first drunken evening, Northrup wakes up in chains and is sold into life as a slave at cotton plantations. Here he is traded to work under various savage bosses.
His first plantation owner, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), kindly gives him a violin to pass away his time but under Ford, Northrup is controlled by the chief carpenter Tibeats (Paul Dano) and is savagely beaten whenever he protests for his position of freedom. When Northrup runs up against Tibeats, he is traded to a mysterious but severe plantation owner, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Here he meets Patsey (striking newcomer Lupita Nyong’o), who has never known a life of freedom. When Epps takes a liking to Patsey however, to the disgrace of his vicious wife (a frosty Sarah Paulson), we witness one of the film’s most violent scenes.
When Northrup meets Bass, a sympathetic carpenter (played by Producer Brad Pitt), a glimmer of hope appears for the slave.
This compelling movie is my pick for this year’s Best Picture Academy Award. It is hard to watch, even though it is worth it. It is not a ‘feel good’ movie but this ugly true story is an absolute must-see. If not for anything but the absolutely magnificent performances by Chiwetal Ejiofor and breathtaking newcomer Lupita Nyong’o.
Rating out of 10: 9.5