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GT SCREEN: 12 Years a Slave / The Railway Man

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We’re literally still weeping as GT reviews 12 Years A Slave.

As one of the most nominated films this award season, there is an awful lot of hype for 12 Years A Slave to live up to. It may have scooped the coveted Best Film at the Golden Globes but many are left to wonder if the movie lives up to the hype. This is a film that renders your preconceptions pointless as it is most certainly not what you would expect. The trailer leads with a perception of being uplifting, but the narrative of the film remains moving yet not empowering.

The intended story clear from the film’s title, but what takes you by surprise is just how raw and real the content is - forcing the viewer to achieve a real understanding of what actually happened repeatedly in Antebellum, America. Solomon, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, as seen in Love Actually and Kinky Boots, is passed from master to master and endures some of the worst cruelty we’ve ever seen on screen. Solomon is one of many who are beaten and abused. The severity of this cruelty is illustrated powerfully by Lupita Nyong’o’s character Patsey who is repeatedly raped, whipped and abused. While what is on screen may be distressing for some, it is intended to be a vivid representation of the truth.

The evolution of time throughout the film is one thing about the film that's left unclear. While time clearly passes, there isn’t anything to illustrate exactly how much time has passed and leaves the viewer with the feeling that the film was a montage of suffering. This may be to illustrate the point that to a slave, time means nothing as days blend into weeks, and months become years. Some scenes are uncomfortably long, but that is clearly intended for the purposes of offering the viewer a truer understanding of the suffering that went on. Each scene was approached with sensitivity and conviction as it is clear the director Steve McQueen intended his audience to really have a sense of what these people were going through.

There is a devastatingly beautiful contrast between the beauty of the locations shot, and the darkness of the story. McQueen clearly knows his medium and makes full use of the southern American setting to highlight the fact that there is still some beauty in the story, though it may be difficult to find at times.

What also stands out is some of the more poetically beautiful exchanges of dialogue between slaves that leave you with a feeling of Shakespearian emotion. “I will not fall into despair, I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune” has to be one of the most poignant lines spoken beautifully by the talented Chiwetel Ejiofor.

It has been said by many a critic that with a topic is heavy as slavery, the film may appear to lack authenticity. It has been highlighted that the portrayal of Solomon’s life prior to his capture, as unrealistic. His family, home and place in New York’s society are shown to be idyllic. And while the comprehension of slavery to the viewer may be difficult to imagine, the transition from freedom to slavery allows a stronger message to be portrayed to the audience, because it also highlights the loss that Solomon had to suffer.

There is a lasting impression of injustice that carries itself after the film is over. While we may be used to films where good overcomes evil, we still left with a feeling of deprivation from the expected salvation. The inspiration is not found in a proverbial ass-kicking or a verbally sassy exchange, it is found simply in the fact that Solomon endured and survived. This film may not be comfortable to watch but we do consider it to be essential viewing.

GT gives this a: 5 out of 5

GT’s reviews the emotional tale of The Railway Man.

There is a plethora of films, books, documentaries and TV shows about World War II but The Railway Man is different. Following the story of Eric Lomax (played by Colin Firth), 40 years after the war, still struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Eric meets and marries Patricia (played by Nicole Kidman) and it's Patricia who leads Lomax to confront his feelings about the war. Parallel to this story, we flash back to a young Eric as he experiences the horrors of war first hand. Posttraumatic stress disorder was something not discussed enough after the Great War and it’s also something we’re struggling to understand about modern warfare. This story about one man’s personal experience is what makes The Railway Man so powerful.

The film is very understated. If you’re expecting huge battle sequences, forceful screaming matches and tearful revelations then you are likely to be disappointed. What this film does offer is something more intense and true to life. There are moments of tension and high emotions but it doesn’t feel overly cinematic. Visually it’s stunning but the events haven’t been blown up to be larger than life. The story is phenomenal enough in its self, with out any Hollywood relish. This is very much a British film and as such the emotion is understated but very present.

The film boasts a stellar cast and the relationship between Firth and Kidman is so lovely and homely and intimate. They seem entirely comfortable with one another, which is a pleasure to watch. It was reported that Firth and Irvine rehearsed together for continuity and that comes across really well. The two stories intersect easily and a part of that is due to how convincingly the men play Eric. I also have to mention Hiroyuki Sanada’s portrayal of Eric’s captor, Nagase. He produces such mixed feelings of hatred, pity and forgiveness; it was hard to know how you feel about him in the end.

As an audience you are witness to horrendous crimes of war, which does make for uncomfortable viewing. The real life Eric Lomax had mentioned, before he died, that is was frustrating to see prisoner of war films where the soldiers look healthy and strong. The Railway Man in contrast has the soldiers looking scarily thin and dirty. What also works are the scenes 40 years later, where you are often on edge about what Lomax might do next. It’s continuation of the tension really brings the audience to the edge of its seat.

The ending does fall short slightly and It doesn’t feel like Lomax has been through enough of a 'journey'. The Railway Man covers such a heavy topic, it’s understandable that some parts may feel a little rushed, however the ending shouldn’t have been one of them. That said, it’s still worth a watch and it’s still a phenomenal and true story.

GT gives this : 4 out of 5

Words: Martin Dixon (@MartinJDixon)

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