12 Years a Slave (US-UK, 2013)

A living hell

A living hell

It’s interesting to consider the different box office performance of this film in North America to the UK. At the time of writing it’s grossed $47 there and £15m in the UK. As a rule of thumb the UK equivalence of $47m would be £4.7m, which shows (even before we consider that the film was released much earlier in the US) that 12 Years a Slave is massively outperforming the US in the UK. One reason may be the fact the film’s holding up an uncomfortable mirror to Americans. We can watch 12 Years feeling superior due to the British national myth that focuses on our role in abolition rather than being slavers, neatly forgetting how we were as exploitative as any initially.

A second possibility is that British audiences, this year, seem particularly receptive to ‘awards films’ with Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle (which I thought was dreadful) also posting excellent box office. Last weekend Dallas Buyers Club debuted with, what Charles Gant calls, a ‘sensational’ £1.9m.

Thirdly there’s the high profile British talent in the film. Actors Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbinder (Irish-German) and Benedict Cumberbatch, who’s TV series Sherlock has cemented him as a star in UK eyes at least, and director Steve McQueen. I doubt, though, that McQueen had much of an impact outside the ‘art house’ crowd. Whatever the reason it was heartening to see, in a multiplex, an early evening (Saturday) viewing nearly full with an audience aged 15-70 for a film that is anything but a Hollywood sugar rush.

Most (all?) of you will be aware of the critical acclaim the film as received and I’ll simply endorse that. The performances are fabulous; I’ll highlight Fassbinder, he’s shaping up to be a ‘great’. McQueen’s reigned in his use of the long take, compared to his previous films, although I loved the lingering on the protagonist, Solomon’s, burnt letter. The shot remained until the last glow of red had disappeared (along with his hopes). Some thought might, however, be given to CGI-ing the immaculate ‘whiter-than-white’ teeth most actors seem to sport. I’m sure the dental hygiene of slaves was not quite how it was portrayed in the film.

This is highly likely to be on my ‘best film’ lists but I must remember not to go to the Vue, in Halifax, as the moment the words, explaining what happened to Solomon subsequent to the film, faded the lights came up breaking the spell. The person in front of me grabbed their phone, obviously requiring a fix, and a Despicable Me minion looked at me from the screen. Back to reality.

6 Responses

  1. […] torment suffered by Michael Fassbinder’s Edwin Epps, a racist in love with a black woman, in 12 Years a Slave; however JK Simmons’ martinet music teacher, Fletcher, is irredeemable. That’s not, I […]

  2. […] I don’t know about the development history of the film; British scriptwriter Paul Webb had been touting the script for some time. Cloud 8 films is the lead producer, set up by Christian Colson who used to work at Celador, who also produced. Celador made Slumdog Millionaire. Cloud 8 has (assuming Wikipedia is up to date and accurate) a ‘first look’ deal with Pathe, who also produced. Brad Pitt’s Plan B and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films represent American involvement. Winfrey appears as Annie Lee Cooper who punched Sheriff Jim Clark in Selma. Winfrey’s obviously a high profile black ‘player’ in the industry and it’s good to see Pitt using his power to get important films made; Plan B was also involved in 12 Years a Slave. […]

  3. […] a further step into the mainstream for co-writer and director Steve McQueen. Ironically, given 12 Years a Slave was essentially an art movie, this is likely to be less financially successful than its […]

  4. […] a further step into the mainstream for co-writer and director Steve McQueen. Ironically, given 12 Years a Slave was essentially an art movie, this is likely to be less financially successful than its […]

  5. […] history of producing interesting films, using Pitt’s star power to help with the financing; 12 Years a Slave is a prime example. Ad Astra is a bit different in that it is a big budget (in the region of […]

  6. […] alienated me, and the scenes of plantation cruelty seemed a bit passé when compared to, say, 12 Years a Slave. Though Lemmons herself stated she wished to avoid the clichés of presenting plantation life as […]

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