London Film Festival 2013 – Day 10

12 Years A Slave

Returning to themes of freedom and return, Steve McQueen’s Toronto Film Festival Audience Award winning 12 Years A Slave is set for much bigger things. Based on Solomon Northup’s own account – a freeman living in Saratoga, New York, kidnapped and sold into slavery and into the hands of white plantation owners in Louisiana, it features a muscular, heartbreaking performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor as well as a superb ensemble cast of 40 shades of evil, including Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt and sublime performances from Michael Fassbender as rabid slave owner Epps and Lupita Nyong’o as his whipped lover Patsey. It’s a visceral depiction of slavery, not shy of all its lashings and lynchings,’ om as well as the slow extinguishing of hope over 12 years’ imprisonment, that like McQueen’s Hunger and Northup’s testimony, prefers to describe historical violence rather than comment on it.

Steven Knight’s Locke, in which a construction foreman decides to take a different turn and jeopardise the largest concrete pour (outside of a military base) in Europe, is a concept story set almost entirely inside a car as one man tries to shoulder his responsibilities to everyone. With a tight script and a fantastic performance from Tom Hardy as the unflappable Welsh husband-in-trouble Ivan, it ends up feeling rather theatrical with repeated visuals of blurred lights and reflections and an ending that feels more like a fade out than a climax.

And finally, still fresh, even after 80 years, Captain Noel’s documentation of Mallory and Irvine’s attempt to summit Everest is a mesmerising insight into a very end-of-Empire fascination with conquest (with a caravan of horses and a troupe of Sherpas) and white arrogance – its arch intertitles don’t give too much of a hoot about the local porters who die (although they do manage to make it onto the 1924 Everest memorial) with frequent reference to the unwashed locals and the Tibetans’ grimy hovels. Besides some fantastic fairy wonderland footage and the documentary interest in the 1924 attempt to conquer the holy mountain, The Epic of Everest is accompanied by a wonderful score of icy winds and Tibetan prayer bowls that bring the silent images of a bygone age hauntingly back to life.

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