Solomon Northup is a free black man in upstate New York providing for his wife and two children as a violin virtuoso. Kidnapped and sold into slavery after a drunken night with colleagues, Solomon is sent to New Orleans where he works across three plantations and for masters varying in kindness and compassion over the next 12 years, always longing for the return of his freedom and to be back in the arms of his family.
Director Steve McQueen ('Shame') isn't shy when it comes to portraying the raw and darker sides of life. His dedication to authenticity is admired yet questioned for its entertainment purpose. If the mark of a good film is an extraordinary journey that causes you to question so much about life while being able to appreciate your own, then McQueen delivers time and time again.
Boasting a story you couldn't make up even if you tried, and with performances to match by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Lupita Nyong'o, '12 Years A Slave' is a force of a film, but equally there's an emotional distance which causes it to not quite reach the power it promises.
Hard to watch for its violence, physical abuse, betrayal and general themes, every gut-wrenching frame of this film makes you want to run - but you don't, you can't, knowing that you're witnessing something extraordinary and vitally important. Based on the memoir of the same name, knowing that this is all true causes a visceral response, and not one that is easily shaken.
Already a Golden Globe winner for Best Picture (Drama) and a strong Oscar contender for both film and performances, '12 Years A Slave' is a film that has to be seen to be believed.