The film – bookmakers favourite for Oscar gold – is based on Solomon Northup’s book of the same name.
Northup, a well respected free man and New Yorker, was drugged, kidnapped, and subsequently sold into slavery, where he stayed for 12 years. In that time Northup is subjected to the true realities of slavery in all of its brutal, unforgiving ways – a million miles away from the pleasant surroundings of the city streets he was used to.
The film adaptation of Northup’s memoir owes its success predominantly to two people: Steve McQueen and Chitwetel Ejiofor. McQueen captured the despicable nature of Northup’s situation in such a powerful and moving way, that certain sequences will literally leave you gasping towards the screen in horror. His use of imagery and sound, aided by another fantastic musical score by Hans Zimmer, produced some of the most shocking, but extremely poignant, scenes to have hit movie-complexes for a long, long time. Ejiofar, however, leads the way on the screen, depicting the trials and tribulations of a man [Northcup] who has to adapt quickly to survive in a completely new world in heart-rendering, but equally dignified, fashion. Supported by the excellent Michael Fassbender as drunken Slave-owner, Edwin Epps, and Adepero Oduye, a fellow slave, Ejiofar finds himself rightly amongst the favourites for best actor during this years’ awards season.
The only small gripe to be had with McQueen’s masterpiece is its lack of a time-frame. We gain little sense of how long Northup is contained, bar from, obviously, the title of the film. The appearance of Brad Pitt’s character, Bass, a Canadian pro-abolitionist, appears seemingly out of nowhere, giving the ending a feeling of being somewhat rushed, and wrapping up a mesmerising tale all too abruptly.
Otherwise McQueen – aided by a superbly talented cast headlined by the outstanding Ejiofar – has produced one of the most harrowing films of the 21st century, and one that will hopefully see the fruits of his labour rewarded over the coming months.