12 Years a Slave review

Based on a true story, 12 Years a Slave tells the tale of black violinist Solomon Northup, who was born free in New York, only to be kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. As the title indicates it would be 12 long, painful years before he finally regained his freedom and was able to return to his family.

Anybody expecting something akin to the detached irony of Tarantino's Django Unchained should look elsewhere. As fans of director Steve McQueen's previous films will no doubt expect, 12 Years a Slave is a formal masterpiece, a flawlessly executed piece of filmmaking that is utterly unflinching in its depiction of the daily horrors slaves were regularly subjected to. Add to that a roster of incredible performances (none better than Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northup) and you have a truly impressive movie about a shameful period of history that simply screams out to be seen.

Picture: Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt has been justifiably lauded for his work on 12 Years a Slave, highlighting the natural beauty of the Louisiana locations to serve as a counterpoint to the horrible acts of violence they witness. And his craftsmanship is perfectly recreated in the stunning AVC 2.40:1 1080p encode on this Blu-ray platter.

The colour palette is richly saturated and bursting with vibrant tones, and the level of fine detailing shines through in both the rough-hewn textures of the slaves' clothes and the myriad scars their bodies bare. Fleshtones also hold up extremely well, with subtle variations in shade evident across the full range of skin colours on display. Meanwhile, black levels are absolutely impeccable, which only helps to isolate characters inside shots, as typified by the scene in Chapter 3 when Solomon wakes up to find himself in chains.
Picture rating: 5/5

Audio: 12 Years a Slave features an impressively involving DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that makes full use of the 360-degree soundfield to bring you into Solomon's world. For instance, a voyage up the river to New Orleans in Chapter 6 is transformed into something truly nightmarish as the wooden frame of the vessel creaks around you and the ceaseless sound of the paddle steamer's churning wheel grows louder and louder.

Dialogue is also expertly handled throughout, never once being overwhelmed by the rest of the mix. Similar praise is also deserved for the track's evocative presentation of Hans Zimmer's string-infused score.
Audio rating: 4.5/5

Extras: Pick of the extras is the two-part 12 Years a Slave: A Historical Portrait. Running 41 minutes in total, it explores the making of the film through in-depth interviews with the cast and crew, interspersed by Ejiofor reading selected extracts from Solomon Northup's original book.

Also included on the disc are two additional featurettes. The Team (eight minutes) takes a more detailed look at the film's crew as it explores the costumes, production design and makeup. As you might expect, The Score (four minutes) looks at composer Zimmer's contribution to the film.
Extras rating: 2.5/5

We say: While more extras wouldn't have gone amiss, this is still a great disc for a remarkable film

12 Years a Slave, EntertainmentOne, Region B BD, £35 Approx