Film Review: 12 Years A Slave (2013)

on Friday, January 10, 2014
'12 Years A Slave' (UK Release: 10 Jan '14) // Words: Saam Das

Floating on a sea of hype and award wins, former visual artist Steve McQueen's latest feature '12 Years A Slave' finally makes it to the big screen in his native country. Based upon the 1953 memoirs of Solomon Northup, McQueen charts the harrowing twelve year journey that one free man must take, having been kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Chiwetal Ejiofor truly stars as Northup, in a career defining role, as the talented violinist who finds himself in the harshest and most unjust of environments. Forced to work on the plantations in Louisana, Northup encounters the wrath of his savage superiors, most notably Michael Fassbender whose Edwin Epps is both infatuated and disgusted with fellow slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o).

The brutality directed toward the slaves, particularly Patsey, is perhaps the most visceral to ever have been committed to the big screen. Nor does this brutality simply come directly from the slave drivers, with Epps' sadistic wife (Sarah Paulson) equally culpable. In the face of frequent adversity, Northup rarely wavers - determined to retain his resolve, regain his true identity, and reunite with his family.

John Ridley's screenplay is elevated by the string of exceptional performances, with Nyong'o and Ejiofor near certainties for Oscar nominations. Ejiofer is more than likely to go one step further, and rightfully so. Steve McQueen too is extremely likely to be recognised by the Academy, aided by an arresting score from Hans Zimmer - their combined powers excel in evoking the polarising emotions of sadness and anger.

The occasional hiccup does appear, however, especially with the obvious signposting from Brad Pitt's heroic Jesus-esque figure. Yet these brief bum notes fail to derail this juggernaut of a film. Moments from McQueen's previous features 'Hunger' (2008) and 'Shame' (2011) may have impressed but '12 Years A Slave' is the complete package. A tour de force of emotive filmmaking, and one which fully deserves the gluttony of plaudits that it has been receiving.


'12 Years A Slave' premiered at the BFI London Film Festival 2013, and is out today in UK cinemas through .

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