12 Years a Slave

Out Now On-Demand

2014 Golden Globe (Best Film, Drama) and Academy Award (Best Picture) winner, based on the true story of free black man Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who was taken from his home in upstate New York and sold into slavery. From director Steve McQueen (Shame), co-starring Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt and Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and introducing Oscar winner (Best Supporting Actress) Lupito Nyong'o.

Waking up after a night with fellow musicians to find himself in irons, Northup undergoes a savage beating before he's even able to understand his plight - that he's been drugged and lured into the clutches of illegal slavetraders. Shipped to New Orleans and sold to a plantation owner, as Northup continues to suffer grotesque physical and psychological abuse he realises the gravity of his situation. While determined to return home to his family, Northup is forced to keep his head down in order to minimise punishment, hiding his educated past and biding his time to escape. But after a confrontation with a racist carpenter (Paul Dano), Northup finds himself sold to brutal, volatile plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) and his struggle becomes not one of escape but simply survival.



Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Nyong'o) and Adapted Screenplay, Academy Awards 2014; Best Film and Best Actor (Ejiofor), BAFTAs 2014; Best Film (Drama), Golden Globes 2014

Directed by

Written by

  • John Ridley
  • (based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup)

Biography, Drama, True Story & Biography, Historical


Rating: R16 Graphic violence & sexual violence


Official Site

Despite reports to the contrary, Steve McQueen's Oscar-bait drama is not the greatest film ever made. It may well be the greatest film ever made about slavery, but that says more about the movie world than the work itself.

Playing real-life free man Solomon Northup, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1840's Louisiana, Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a typically strong performance. As do his starry co-stars – producer/saviour Brad Pitt, slave trader Paul Giamatti, progressive plantation owner Benedict Cumberbatch, and Solomon's main tormentor, psychotic owner Michael Fassbender – who inhabit a picaresque purgatory of almost Dickensian grotesquery.

Like Tarantino before him, McQueen pulls no punches in the depiction and infliction of violence. Quite the opposite. Solomon is beaten until the whip breaks, Eliza (Adepero Oduye) wails as her children sold off. Meanwhile, the scene where poor Patsey (the excellent Lupita Nyong'o) is whipped almost to death by a drunk, ranting Fassbender is so horrifying it eclipses the other 130 minutes.

It's an unflinching film, and extremely well made, but it's also a limited one: overlong, schematic, a touch distant. Sometimes it seems McQueen is only comfortable showing the nadir of human behaviour, something borne out in both Shame and Hunger. And no matter what Solomon endures, he's never more than a noble cypher, a figure lost in the landscape.

The ultimate irony is that, even with an incredible true story, a once-in-a-lifetime cast and much technical expertise at his disposal, McQueen still can't manage to make Solomon a person. Surely we've come further than that?

At The Movies (Australia)


An extraordinary film.

Dissolve (USA)


A tough, soul-sickening, uncompromising work of art that makes certain that when viewers talk about the evils of slavery, they know its full dimension.

Empire (UK)


Falling between the twin pillars of the art house and prestige period flick... history lesson as horror film, powerful, visceral and affecting.

Guardian (UK)


Almost unwatchably shocking and violent film.

Hollywood Reporter


A strong, involving, at times overstated telling of an extraordinary life story.

New York Times


[Its] genius is its insistence on banal evil, and on terror, that seeped into souls, bound bodies and reaped an enduring, terrible price.

Time Out London


The cumulative emotional effect is devastating: the final scenes are as angry, as memorable, as overwhelming as anything modern cinema has to offer.

Total Film (UK)


Visceral, vital and anchored by its earnest performances, this is a potent portrait of a shameful historical truth.

Variety (USA)


This epic account of an unbreakable soul makes even Scarlett O'Hara's struggles seem petty by comparison.




Very good. Lupita Nyongo'o you are amazing.


Powerful in its brutal exploration of this true story. A must watch - but not for the faint hearted.





Interesting and moving. Not your family movie night choice. The film is so good because the brutal reality of slavery is effectively portrayed, which means there is a fair amount of discomfort necessary for the viewer.

Mans inhumanity to man

Movie plot and subject matter are history. This depiction brings in your face brutality and hypocritical religious fervour reminding us of the nasty deeds done to those who are/look different.

12 years at the movies

12 years a slave was a fantastic film with a great cast and an accurate insight into American slavery. Yes the film is sad, shocking and contains violence that is somewhat hard to swallow but if you expected anything else then you clearly don't know much about American History. My biggest complaint with the film is is that it was just too long! There were multiple instances throughout the film where a shot of a single scene lasted uncomfortably long and just made it difficult to watch. Had there been some better editing done and roughly 30 - 40 minutes of useless footage edited out they would have had a solid and gripping film, from beginning to end.

Too long

and just a bit predictable. Django Unchained was a much more entertaining movie. Good story but going into it knew there was a happy ending.

Alluringly poignant, powerful and brilliant.

12 years a Slave captures the essence of a nation in flux. At a time when the US is divided by slavery, we find the northern states empathetic to the plight of slaves while the South is unburdened by the immorality of ingrained slavery. A contextual commentary of the mind sets of North and South as well as the human and social cost of a dying ideology propped up by the rich few for their own self-interest.

The story revolves around an educated man of colour in the north who is deviously bound into slavery and his journey as a slave toward ultimate freedom.

Few films bring out the true, ugly side of humanity in such a revealing and contextual manner. 12 years a slave not only brings the reality of slavery to light, it also raises anger in the spirit.

Only two doco’s have ever managed to move me in such a way (The Cove & Blackfish) – but never has a major production done the same.

An unashamed 4/5 from me.


A sad sickening reality is realized of the darkness and sickness that can be

expressed by fellow man. The hideous nature that the slaves had to endure

and the re-telling of a factual story is captured with graphic detail and portrayed

in such a way that you are left impacted like never before. Well written, acted and

directed with music that is true to its origins. Well worth a watch! No guess as to

why this film is cleaning up and getting rave reviews!




If you would like a miserable night out....

go and see this unsophisticated and predictable film. It is better than a Spike Lee film, but not a lot. I feel that it is obvious fodder for the American market. Don't waste your money, read a decent book on the subject instead.


Mcqueen is genius.