Steve McQueen's '12 Years A Slave' is based on the incredible true story of Solomon Northup and his fight for freedom and survival in Pre-Civil War United States. The films undeniably realistic portrayal of slavery through the eyes of a man not born a slave, but as a free man takes viewers down the tortuous path of America's shameful and inhumane past. The hauntingly beautiful Louisiana landscape is the backdrop to brutality, which in my opinion only adds to the authenticity of the movie.
The fact that McQueen an Englishman not an American sought to depict Solomon's plight in such a way that conveyed the complex emotions of regular human beings is fascinating. Many films in which slavery is conveyed, have always dumbed down their characters to one simple idea, who is bad and who is good. in '12 Years A Slave' the boundaries between the two have been seamlessly blurred, through John Ridley's screenplay and through many of the widely unknown actors who convey the complexity of human emotion throughout the film. Cumberpatch's portrayal of the kindly Ford, Solomon's first master highlights this perfectly. Although Ford praises and encourages Solomon and even goes as far as protecting him, when Solomon tells him the truth of his kidnapping, Ford in unwilling to listen, stating only that the only thing that matters is the debt he owes. It is characters like this that authenticate this film, in real life the boundaries between right and wrong, moral and immoral are not always clearly defined, this characterisation of Ford makes his character all the more real.
The film is deeply emotional, with scenes of lynching, whipping set against scenes of community, hope and bravery. Probably the most notorious scene from the film is the scene in which Lupita N'yongo's 'Patsey' is brutally beaten and Solomon is forced to be complicit in her punishment, remarkably over a bar of soap. However it is this scene that in my opinion although the most brutal, is the most dignified of all of Patsey's scenes. Towards the end of her beating McQueen, does something so subtle with the camera that makes me wonder if it was even intentional in the first place, he includes Patsey's hand which although are bound, they still are still clinging onto the soap, a sort of symbol of her rights, if you will a subtle fight back. Its simple and subtle scenes like these that make '12 Years A Slave' the masterpiece that it is.
In comparison to a lot of films through history that have shown the brutality of slavery '12 Years A Slave' is by far the most authentic and remarkably unbiased depiction of this. Unlike Taratino's 'Django Unchained' which is a stylised version in which the subject of a slave's revenge is explored and eventually leads to cathartic bloodbath at the end of film, which in a way provides the viewer with a sense of justice having been dealt. '12 Years A Slave' has no such "happy" ending, instead Solomon returns to his no fully grown family, which although does show some form of justice being dealt, the ending credits reveal that in fact the real Solomon Northup was never able to fully bring his captors to full justice, which in my opinion is an authentic piece of history that leaves the viewer with an overwhelming sense of emotion.