Based on a true story, 12 Years a Slave tells the story of free man Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who lives in New York with his wife and two children, making a living as a musician. When his wife and children are away, he takes a well-paying job in Washington only to find himself drugged and beat, and taken down south to be sold as a slave. His first owner, Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a fair man (despite the whole owning slaves thing), but employs the cruel Tibeats (Paul Dano) who hates Northup for being smart and outspoken. After Northup stands up to Tibeats, Ford fears for his life, and sells him to the cruel drunkard Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Epps regularly beats and humiliates his slaves, although takes one of the young women, Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) as his lover. It is not a spoiler to say that eventually he is Northup is freed – it is in the title after all.
It is an extremely good film made from difficult subject matter. It is appalling to think that slavery existed at all, much less that it was common for people to think of men and women (and children) of African heritage as lesser beings. Having said that, there is still slavery in the world. I haven’t come across a film that addresses slavery in modern times; I’d be interested to know if there has been one, and wonder if I have the stomach to watch it.
I found it interesting, however, that for a film with such intense subject matter and excellent acting, I was not greatly emotionally moved. I only cried a little at the end, yet this is surely the type of film that I would have expected to have me in floods of tears. Perhaps it was the weird couple who came into the almost empty cinema, very loudly, thirty minutes in, sat behind me still talking loudly, then the woman sent the man out for M&Ms (we all know because she shouted across the entire cinema as he left). I actually felt fearful of shhhing (they were really weird) and so I moved, but perhaps that whole thing put me off. Though, I think it was just that I did not get a huge chance to connect with Northup throughout. I disliked what was happening to him, but in a very detached manner.
Best Film Oscar? I’m nearly through all the 2014 nominations, and so far, yeah, I reckon it was. I still have Captain Phillips and Philomena, but of the bunch of them, this comes out ahead for me.
12 Years a Slave won Oscars for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Lupita Nyong’o) and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley) and was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Lead Role (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Michael Fassbender), Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Achievement in Directing, Best Achievement in Film Editing and Best Achievement in Production Design. It was also won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Drama and was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Michael Fassbender), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Lupita Nyong’o), Best Director – Motion Picture (Steve McQueen), Best Screenplay – Motion Picture (John Ridley) and Best Original Score – Motion Picture. It won BAFTA Awards for Best Film and Best Leading Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and was nominated for Film Music, Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o), Best cinematography, Best Editing, Best Production Design and Best Direction (Steve McQueen).