On reflection 12 Years A Slave might not have been the most appropriate film to take my at-the-time eleven-week-old daughter to see for her first cinematic experience. Nothing to do with the unflinching depiction of brutality and torture in the pre-Civil War Deep South, not due to the nudity or robust language and not even because of Brad Pitt’s frankly preposterous beard. No, what’s worrying me is that in approximately a decade I will be expecting her to clean my car of a Sunday afternoon and provide me with a constant stream of brews for no reward and I really don’t want her steadfastly refusing and reciting the Emancipation Proclamation at me.
An early and healthy knowledge of international human rights legislation would be a wonderful thing obviously but there has to be some domestic wiggle room.
Living near Leeds we have a choice of two baby-friendly cinema screenings on a Wednesday morning. The Everyman in the city centre was showing Disney’s latest animated offering Frozen but why on earth would I want to watch a kids’ film when my own offspring is too young to comprehend? We’ll have years of E number fuelled, primary coloured, Robin Williams-voiced trips to the pictures to endure soon enough at least let me try and stimulate the last vestiges of grey matter that remain.
My other problem with Frozen is entirely personal. When we were thinking of names for the little ‘un we wanted something that was pitched delicately halfway between ‘so common there are seven others in her class at school’ and ‘Fifi Trixibelle’. Elsa was nowhere to be seen in the top 100 most popular name lists and we were proud of our choice. Inevitably then Frozen came along with one of the major characters called Elsa meaning Disney could potentially ruin Elsa like they did our first choice name: Goofy.
(A poor gag I know but, thinking about it, Goofy is still preferable to Fifi Trixibelle)
So we plumped for 12 Years A Slave at the wonderful Hyde Park Picture House. Before Elsa was born the idea of attending a Bring Your Own Baby screening filled me with dread. Imagine trying to watch any film, let alone one that makes such use of subtlety, nuance and quietness with a roomful of wailing infants. Who am I kidding? Even as I bought our tickets the idea of attending a Bring Your Own Baby screening still filled me with dread. The complimentary coffee almost seemed like an opportunity to gird one’s loins in the foyer before entering the fray of an auditorium brim-full of tots. Not so much Dutch courage as Javanese courage, I guess.
In the screen it was mainly Mums who generally occupied the ends of the aisles for purposes of an easy escape should their child decide that the original movie soundtrack didn’t contain enough banshee-esque wailing and saw fit to add their own.
As long as you can put up with the surround sound screaming it’s actually not too bad a way to watch a film. Everything’s relative of course; as the Dad of a newborn the only other chance I’d get to satisfy my movie appetite is whilst cradling the bairn in one arm, an iPad in the other and hoping beyond hope that I don’t get an itchy nose. The lights are slightly brighter than usual for ease of dribble-mopping and the sound is a little lower plus there are subtitles for when the infants manage to coordinate their aural onslaught.
The film itself is stunning notwithstanding the aforementioned facial hair. Michael Fassbender is beguilingly evil, Lupita Nyong’o is heartbreakingly vulnerable and Steve McQueen’s direction is note perfect; scenes purposefully lingering just long enough to make the audience as uncomfortable as the subject matter dictates.
Lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is commanding throughout and surely nailed on for an Oscar victory and the inevitable and thoroughly deserved boost to his career that comes with the gong. Whatever happens he can be sure that he’ll never receive a harsher critique than the one dished out by Elsa. There is an excellent scene midway through the film that is almost played in complete silence; the Gods of dramatic tension somehow combined to ensure that a hush descended on the cinema for the first time since the curtains parted. All eyes were fixed on the screen, mouths open in awe, senses tingling in anticipation of how it would all play out and then came a very loud, very long and very obvious rumbling from deep within my daughter’s nappy; the acoustics of the room ensuring it reverberated around the entire audience.
Eat your heart out Barry Norman.