Those who’ve been locked into the first two seasons of Sherlock are likely well-established members of the cult of Benedict Cumberbatch at this point. The actor has an unusual combination of humor, intelligence, and physicality that makes him ideal for Sherlock Holmes, and that appeal is starting to expand into more feature roles. Cumberbatch has a couple big pictures coming up in the next two years, as he’s playing a crucial role in The Hobbit, and he’s the villain the new Star Trek film.

Now, perhaps most exciting, Cumberbatch has been cast in Twelve Years a Slave, which is the third teaming of director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) and actor Michael Fassbender.

The film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northrup, who was kidnapped as a free man and sold into slavery for a dozen years. Variety says Cumberbatch will be “a plantation owner who buys Ejiofor’s character and is won over by his engineering skills.”

John Ridley (Red Tails) scripted based on Northrup’s memoir recounting his horrific experience. Brad Pitt plays a supporting role.

The following text lays out the beginning of Northrup’s tale, and is worth reading just to get a sense of how crazy this story is.

In 1841, while working in Saratoga Springs, New York, Solomon met two white men named Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton. The men overheard Solomon playing his violin and approached him claiming to work for a traveling circus. They proceeded to offer Northup a job providing musical entertainment for the circus at the rate of $1 a day and $3 for each performance. The two men informed him that they would need to travel to Washington D.C., where the circus currently was located but that they would then be traveling back north. Believing he would only be away from home for a short period of time, Solomon did not notify his family that he was leaving. Little did he know that this trip would mark the beginning of the twelve longest years of his life.

Even though Solomon was a free black man, Washington D.C. in 1841 was a place where slavery was legal. Free blacks traveling through areas where slavery was legal needed to furnish papers certifying their free status or face the possibility of being accused of being a runaway slave. Thus, before Solomon and his new companions left the state to begin their trip to Washington D.C., he secured papers declaring his status as a free black citizen of New York. Unfortunately, these papers would not be able to protect Solomon once he reached the nation’s capital.

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