12 Years a Slave tells of Solomon Northup, a black man living free from the shackles of slavery in upstate New York, until he is abducted and sold into slavery. Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men), is taken to New Orleans where he is forced to work on a plantation. The film, based on the memoirs of Northup, has been praised for its brutal and unflinching portrayal of the horrors inflicted to slaves during the 1800s in the USA.

12 Years a Slave
 Chiwetel Ejiofor stars in 12 Years a Slave as Solomon Northup.

The film is due to be released in the US today (Friday 18th October) and early reviews suggest this may be one of the best - and most important- films of the year. The critics love 12 Years a Slave; and with a stellar cast and crew in addition to a moving, brutal and accurate portrayal of slavery, it's likely to be an Oscar contender. 

Starring alongside Ejiofor is a host of incredibly talented actors including Michael Fassbender (Shame), Brad Pitt (World War Z), Paul Giametti (The Illusionist), Michael K. Williams (Boardwalk Empire) and Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story). 

The reviews have, primarily, commented on three aspects of the film. Firstly it is an honest and accurate portrayal of the live of a slave. This sense is particularly evident in Joe Neumaier's review for the New York Daily News in which he writes: 12 Years a Slave is "a harrowing, unforgettable drama that doesn't look away from the reality of slavery and, in so doing, helps us all fully, truly confront it." 

Watch the movie trailer for 12 Years a Slave:

Secondly, it is the director's decisions which have been highly praised. The film is directed by Steve McQueen, who is responsible for such films as Shame (also starring Fassbender) and Hunger. Ann Hornaday, of the Washington Post, rather eloquently described McQueen's film as lacking in "flash edits or self-conscious visual flourishes to put viewers at ease; rather, he invites the audience to sit with him as he gazes, amazed, at man's inhumanity to man." 

12 Years a Slave is released in US cinemas on Friday 18th October. Cinema goers in the UK will have to wait until 24th January 2014.

12 Years a Slave
Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave.