12 YEARS A SLAVE: REVIEW – Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was a freeman living in New York. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery.

You probably don’t know this, but Steve McQueen has made a film of his autobiography 12 Years a Slave with a more than respectable cast (Michael Fassbender, Lupita N’Yongo, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Scoot McNairy and Brad Pitt), and produced by Brad Pitt. It’s a moving and thoughtful piece, beautifully photographed and with an elegaic Hans Zimmer score, and as befits a film from the perspective of a violinist it seems to think in music. The film has already been amply awarded and critically recognised and looks set to get even more accolades as the season progresses. And if there were anymore doubt about its artistic worth that was quickly dispensed with when it received its final seal of approval: Armond White didn’t like it.

None of this is to say that the film is perfect or above criticism – the casting sometimes feels like a ‘we have to work together sometime’ arrangement and some of those recognizable faces stand out. As a visual artist, McQueen also has a predilection for the tableaux and his fascination with suffering – already evident in Shame and Hunger – breeds an eerie detachment. However, that said, suffering is a fascinating subject and if this is ‘torture porn’ (see Mr. White’s assertion) then so is the Book of Job, King Lear and St. Matthew’s Passion, at which point we can dispense with the term as a denoter of value. This film is not the final word on slavery, nor can any film claim to be, but it is a precisely and humanely rendered depiction of one man’s slave narrative and it deserves to be seen and heard.

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