Certificate: 15

Running Time: 120 mins

Star Rating: 4/5

THE media firestorm which has engulfed Nate Parker - director, writer and leading actor of The Birth Of A Nation - casts a long shadow over his historical drama about an 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia. The furore around a rape charge dating back to 1999, when Parker was a student at Penn State University and of which he was acquitted, has almost certainly torpedoed any chance of his individual contributions being part of the feverish Academy Awards conversations in the coming months.

Judging The Birth Of A Nation purely on its merits, the film provokes the same debates as 12 Years A Slave, albeit with less narrative sophistication and directorial brio. Behind the camera, Parker is ruled by convention and he struggles to generate dramatic momentum. However, in a year when the lack of diversity in the global filmmaking community has become a hot-button topic, Parker's achievements on a modest budget should not be underestimated.

Slave owner Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer) believes he is more tolerant and understanding than many of his neighbours in Southampton County. His God-fearing mother Elizabeth (Penelope Ann Miller) raised young Samuel with a slave boy called Nat (Parker) as his playmate, and the imposing matriarch taught Nat to read by referring him to the word of the Bible.

Nat devours every word and grows up with a belief that he must preach to his people.

The Birth Of A Nation is a passionate, yet clumsily conceived, rallying cry for equality, spattered with the blood and tears of men, who acknowledge that violence begets greater violence. Parker conceives some horrifying imagery, but he fails to elegantly weave these jolts into a fluid and constantly engaging character study.