Adapted from his 1853 autobiography, 12 Years a Slave is the true account of Solomon Northup’s tenure as a slave in the American South.
Played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Northup was a free man and accomplished violin player from New York. Through a third party, Northup is put in contact with two men who wish to procure his talents for a touring show. Instead, he is kidnapped and forced into a life of servitude. For the next 12 years, he is sent from one plantation to another and treated with shocking inhumanity.
Given the subject matter, 12 Years a Slave can be very depressing at times. The violence is harrowing and is depicted with unrelenting brutality. However, beyond the violence is a well crafted, aesthetically brilliant period piece. Ejiofor gives a wonderful performance as Solomon Northup and has backing from a strong supporting cast. Michael Fassbender’s plantation owner, in love with a slave played by Lupita Nyong’o, evokes comparison with Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth from Schindler’s List and is a suitably evil presence.
Director Steve McQueen has made what may be the quintessential film on slavery. A powerful statement on racism, 12 Years a Slave is a triumph and essential viewing.