Period pieces of the indie variety are hard to come by, and Daniel H. Jacobson’s ambitious romance drama, 1805, certainly has a lot going for it. Set during a turbulent time of slavery in Virginia, the short spotlights the escape of a plantation worker, Basammer (Nathanial J. Ryan), and his wife, Marfay (Michelle Kariuki).
Chattel slavery is on its way to abolition in the North, and on the farm of Jared Cory (Ross Denyer), one man makes the bold decision to risk it all for a better life. Leaving the plantation alongside his wife Marfay, Basammer flees towards the Mason-Dixon line, with the couple’s future only becoming more uncertain as they travel further away.
Jacobson and his team definitely have the technical know-how to craft such a demanding film. Cinematographer Raz Birger’s camerawork is sharp and vibrant, beautifully showcasing authentic production design work from Lyndsey Hinkle. Jacobson does a fine job as both director, editor, and screenwriter, with the script in particular, showing commendable nuance in the more dialogue-heavy sequences. Ryan and Kariuki do standout work with what they are given, lending authenticity to their characters.
At its core, Jacobson has a love story to frame his complex subject matter through, and the time period backs up all the tension throughout. Yet, the filmmakers seem too leisurely as far as pacing is concerned. At just under thirty minutes, 1805 feels like it could have been half that, or at the very least, more brisk. Shots go on for a touch too long, and the actual escape itself is filmed with no sense of urgency needed. All that being said, though, the third act does carry with it a final twist that comes out of left field.
So while 1805 feels long in places, it still manages to present a handful of great performances from its core cast, and a story that puts a new perspective on well-known historical events.