Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Free State of Jones

Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Free State of Jones

Article excerpt

Free State of Jones is an American Civil War drama 'inspired' by the life of Newton Knight, who led an armed rebellion against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi, and one rather wishes that that was all it was about. Directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit , The Hunger Games ), and starring a whiskery, leathery Matthew McConaughey, it tells that story, then thinks: while you're here, might we tell another story? And another one? So you are fully educated in all matters? In the end, such is the weight of all these stories that you won't lose the will to live exactly, but you will find it has been significantly weakened.

The film opens in 1862 and opens as you might expect. That is, bloodily and viscerally on a battlefield mid-combat as body parts fly. Knight is a medic who has had enough. He's had enough of the carnage. He's had enough of the politics, particularly the new 'Twenty Negro Law' that exempts men who own more than 20 slaves from military service. ('It's a rich man's war but a poor man's fight,' it is noted, clearly.) And when his teenage nephew is killed, that's it, and he deserts. To cut a long story short, for which you should be grateful, as this is a protracted business, he ends up hiding in the swamps along with a group of runaway slaves whom he feels for, just as he feels for the poor, the weak, the disenfranchised. Knight's sense of social justice is second to none. Knight's sense of social justice would shame Jeremy Corbyn, plus he's handier to have about the place. He is a natural leader. (The slaves accept his leadership without question.) He can blacksmith. He can whittle fish hooks. He can roast a dog -- I forgive him; needs must -- and build a house.

For all I know, Knight may have been all these things, and would even take the rubbish out, in normal circumstances, but I still felt a keen hungering for the slaves to have some agency, any agency. They wouldn't have figured out how to fish for themselves, for instance? Later, Knight leads a group to vote for the first time. Why? They'd have got lost on the way to the ballot box otherwise? This is Knight's story, and not 12 Years a Slave , you might reasonably argue, but you will still have to buy all these slaves simply not fishing and not voting and waiting around for a nice, white fella to come along to show them how it's done. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.