In 1727, J.S. Bach set to manuscript the St. Matthew Passion, one of the finest musical compositions of all time. The three-and-a-half-hour piece is a haunting, complex and beautiful telling of the crucifixion and ascension of Jesus Christ. It is a story of tragedy, pain, injustice, sorrow and salvation. The genius of Bach's magnum opus is the articulation of extreme but relatable human emotions in a way that still manages to hew to the draconian laws of the Lutheran sacred musical canon.
The result is a journey of anguish, yet it leaves you feeling uplifted. In November 2013, the director Steve McQueen set to screen 12 Years a Slave, by a long way the most powerful story about slavery, civil liberties and human rights ever told. The film features a strikingly similar set of emotions to Bach's Passion, and the story arc - betrayal, torture and some form of redemption - resonates, too. At the centre of both stories, on which everything hinges, is the protagonist. In each scene in 12 Years a Slave, we witness the extraordinary struggle of Solomon Northup, and of all the actors who might have brought this remarkable true story to screen, McQueen had only one in mind: Chiwetel Ejiofor.
'Chiwetel takes off the safety wheels and goes for it,' McQueen tells The Rake. 'It is exhausting, but taking emotions and transcending them and communicating them to an audience - it is the real deal.'