Oscars 2014: 12 Years a Slave review and trailer – a tremendously powerful piece of cinema

With an all-star cast including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o and Benedict Cumberbatch, Steve McQueen's epic tale of slavery has been the toast of awards season


Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard, Sarah Paulson


Director: Steve McQueen

Aside from the milestone 1970s mini-series Roots, Quentin Tarantino’s puerile revenge fantasy Django Unchained, and a handful of others, there have been precious few films about slavery in the US told from the point of view of the enslaved. At the very least, director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir (which was previously adapted for TV in 1984, starring Avery Brooks) represents essential viewing for correcting that imbalance.

The added bonus is that it’s also a tremendously powerful piece of cinema, a tale of suffering, endurance, courage and abiding humanity about a freeborn man kidnapped and sold into slavery, which packs all the more wallop for the elegance with which it’s made.

Yes, the scenes where characters are brutalised and tortured are shocking in the extreme. However, McQueen tempers that horror with a bravura display of directorial craft, so that the most emotionally devastating moments – for instance, a long-held close-up of Northup singing – arrive with maximum force.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s restrained, finely modulated lead performance fully deserves all the praise that’s been heaped upon it, but the supports, especially Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender, are no less impressive. 

Watch coverage of the Oscars 2014 this Sunday from 11:30pm on Sky Movies