Film review, by Jason Day, of 12 Years a Slave, the drama about the true story of Soloman Northup a free black man in 19th Century America who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and directed by Steve McQueen.
Director: Richard Curtis. Universal/Studio Canal/Working Title/DNA Films. (15).
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Duncan Kenworthy.
Writer: Richard Curtis.
Camera: Michael Coulter.
Music: Craig Armstrong.
Sets: Jim Clay.
Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Martine McCutcheon, Bill Nighy, Rowan Atkinson, Gregor Fisher, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Kris Marshall, Martin Freeman, Joanna Page, Sienna Guillory, Rodrigo Santoro, Edward Hardwicke, Billy Bob Thornton, January Jones, Claudia Schiffer, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards.
The love lives of eight very different couples in London are chronicled in the run up to Christmas.
Largely successful, Brit-portmanteau picture that could have been titled Luvvies Actually given how much of Equity’s register has been emptied to fatten up the cast list.
Right at the top of the bill (and that has never been an indication of quality in such star-studded pictures) is Grant as a love-lorn and single Prime Minister chasing clumsy new tea-girl McCutcheon. This is a gormless and charmless pairing, Grant’s aggravating, stuttering bluster by now a cliche, a cinematic short-cut of performance. McCutcheon is a chirpy ‘cockernee’ sparra’. Well, what else would she be? Her post- Eastenders debut was never going to push expectations.
Such ego-heavy productions groan at the seams with performers ecstatically trying to out act each other. Oddly though, the turns that stick in the memory here are those that don’t try too hard. Neeson trying it on with thinly veiled supermodel Schiffer (ignore the awful child crowing them on), Rickman contemplates a mid-life affair encouraged by nice friend Thompson and there is a heartbreaking threesome in Knightley, Ejiofor and Lincoln. The denouement to this particular thread of the story is literally a wrench, brilliantly and shockingly delivered by these actors.
There are still more powerful turns. In terms of comedy, Nighy and Fisher score most strongly in the entire film. They feature as a washed up eighties pop star and his long-suffering manager, trapped forever in a sexually unfulfilling bromance. Nighy is given one last shot at music immortality with a fairly ropey Christmas single. There can be no greater satisfaction for a cynical British audience, in this part of the story at least, to hear him refer (to Fisher’s horror) to Ant and Dec as “Ant or Dec” and note to their audience of largely under 15 year olds: “Kids, don’t buy drugs. Become a rock star and people will buy them for you”. This has to be the best line that Curtis has ever dropped into a motion picture screenplay. Thank you Richard!
For drama though, take a bow Ms Linney. One of the handful of visiting foreigners in this film, she can hold her head up high that, on celluloid at least, she juggles a difficult storyline perfectly as a woman trying to placate a mentally unbalanced brother and maintain the interest of horny Brazilian colleague Santoro. She deserves an Oscar for managing to keep her hands off him. This is the most impressive straight performance in the whole film.
Atkinson, who shares Curtis’ love of the extended similie and that certain Oxbridge humour (they both worked together on the Blackadder TV series) ties elements of the movie together as an obsequious Department Store sales clerk in some ill advised pantomime, but the film still scores because the humour and feel-good factor are nicely balanced with believable festive angst.