SOLOMON Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) lives with his wife Anne (Kelsey Scott), daughter Margaret (Quvenzhane Wallis) and son Alonzo (Cameron Zeigler) in 1841 Washington City. Following a meeting with two seemingly respectable gentlemen – Messrs Brown (Scoot McNairy) and Hamilton (Taran Killam) – Solomon is sold into slavery.
Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti) takes delivery of Solomon and ignores his pleas for leniency, snarling: “My sentimentality stretches the length of a coin.” Solomon’s first master, Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), is kind but fate delivers the lead character to sadistic Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).
This master spites his unfeeling wife (Sarah Paulson) by taking a shine to one of the slave girls, Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). Solomon is caught in the crossfire and seeks respite in the company of an abolitionist called Bass (Brad Pitt), who believes that “slavery is an evil that should befall none”.
Based on Northup's autobiography of the same name, 12 Years A Slave was the toast of this year's Oscars, and deservedly so. Steve McQueen’s bravura third feature is a sensitive yet unflinching portrait of suffering that delivers its message of brutality and endurance with the full force of a sledgehammer to the solar plexus.
Ejiofor breaks our hearts as an honest man, who retains his humanity in the face of unspeakable cruelty.
Nyong’o is equally eye-catching in her big screen debut while Fassbender simmers with rage.
McQueen’s directorial brio comes to the fore, memorably in a horrific whipping sequence shot in a single take.