On a wet, windswept Sunday evening in Exeter, two friends and I went to see 12 Years a Slave. It was just as we had expected it to be: extraordinary, powerful, and profoundly moving. For once, I had read many of the reviews beforehand and although there were some dissenting voices, most critics and commentators seemed to speak as one. This is what the Channel 4 newscaster, Jon Snow, had to say on his C4 blog.
I don't think that I would dispute one word. Do go to see 12 Years a Slave if you can.
My friends and I agreed that watching this particular film on a large screen was worthwhile, not least because it emphasised its dramatic impact. But for us there was a distinct downside to this - the cinema itself. One of a large national chain, it had all the atmosphere of an industrial warehouse and the dreary, chilly foyer, with just a handful of seats, could have put us off cinema-going for life.
There was the usual limited selection of you-know-who's sugar-laden soft drinks and giant buckets of popcorn but surely, we thought, this could not possibly be the sort of film people would want to munch and slurp through. How wrong we were. Once we were in the auditorium, we found ourselves surrounded by people clasping mega-containers and, yes, they did munch and slurp, even through some of the film's most harrowing scenes. Two of them sat at the end of our row, having arrived with so much food and drink that they seemed to be having difficulty carrying it all.
As soon as the film ended, the same people all rushed to the exit -they didn't hang around to watch the credits; they felt no need to acknowledge all the people whose individual and collective efforts had enabled them to watch this magnificent work.
When we got up to leave, almost the last people in the cinema to do so, we had to tread over a substantial pile of uneaten popcorn and fried food that the couple at the end of our row had thoughtfully thrown on the floor. Even if it had occurred to them that, apart from the waste, someone else would have to clear up their vile mess, it seemed that this was of no concern. Oh the irony, after such a film.
It reminded me of a scene I witnessed almost 30 years ago in what was then one of Sainsbury's newest and largest branches in central London. Its location meant that it attracted some of the company's wealthiest customers, many of whom had deserted the much pricier Harrods Food Halls about a mile away. A mother and daughter were making a stately progress around the aisles, when the daughter picked up and promptly dropped a bottle of something or other. The bottle smashed into pieces on the floor, leaving a shard-strewn, viscous mess. The daughter bent down and started to pick up the pieces of glass.
'Oh leave it, darling,' droned the plummy mummy, 'they have people to do that sort of thing.' And they resumed their stately progress.
I'm sure that Jon Snow is right. Everyone should see 12 Years a Slave. But not everyone will see it in the same way . . .