Run time: 133mins

Director: Steve McQueen

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt

Synopsis: In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty at the hands of a malevolent slave owner, as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity.

This harrowing masterpiece from the hottest UK director working today, the brilliant Steve McQueen, features probably the most formidable cast assembled in recent times and has already created a critical storm – a film not only extraordinary to watch but a viewing necessity.

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in 1841 is an elegant, cultured, family man and musician who is abruptly tricked, kidnapped and sold in chains into slavery, which he endures with dignity and astounding resourcefulness in this heart-wrenching true story.

Renamed Platt, Solomon is sold as ‘prized livestock’  to Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) a ‘good’  master, but disaster beckons when he rebels against his petty, bullying overseer, Tibeats (Paul Dano in his best performance since There Will Be Blood)

Ford can’t protect Solomon and sells him on to a notoriously cruel owner rather than take a financial loss.

Soon after, Solomon is placed with Edwin Epps (brilliantly portrayed by Michael Fassbender – a regular collaborator in McQueen’s films). Epps is a weak, sadistic, alcoholic cotton planter with a vicious, jealous wife, (Sarah Paulson).  Together they make life a living hell for Solomon and his fellow slaves, inflicting beatings, humiliations, unspeakable cruelty and in the case of Epps, rape and child sexual abuse.

Eventually a fortuitous building task with Bass (Brad Pitt) – who becomes sympathetic to his plight – enables Solomon to escape slavery and return to his family.

This is a magnificently crafted film with an outstanding screenplay by John Ridley based on the memoir : Twelve Years a Slave (1853); sub-title: Narrative of Solomon Northup, citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana), by Solomon Northup as told to David Wilson.

McQueen’s film confronts us with the grim reality of slavery in a vivid and horrific way previously unseen on screen; and yet it is a stirring story of dignity, resourcefulness and survival – a must-see work of art that transcends mere entertainment.

Photographs courtesy of Entertainment One UK