Steve McQueen (no, not the Hollywood icon, he passed away in 1980) previously directed the critically-acclaimed dramas Hunger and Shame, both of which feature physically-demanding central performances from Michael Fassbender (of X-Men: First Class and Prometheus fame) and have established McQueen’s reputation as a skilled and artistically-motivated cinematic storyteller.

This year, the filmmaker returns with his third feature-length effort: 12 Years a Slave, which is based on the memoir titled “Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853″ (you can even read Northup’s original writings online).

Fox Searchlight is backing the project and has set 12 Years a Slave to open on December 27th, 2013, which allows it to slip under the wire just in time to qualify for the major awards ceremonies that will be held in 2014. It sits alongside a few other prestigious historical and/or biographical films as early awards contenders this year – given it has joined the Weinstein Company-backed Grace of Monaco and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom during the final quarter of 2013 (Grace, in fact, opens the same day as 12 Years a Slave).

Three-time Golden Globe-nominee Ejiofor (whose mainstream movie acting credits include Serenity2012 and Salt) headlines the 12 Years a Slave cast, which counts Fassbender among its ranks.

Here’s an official description of the plot setup:

SOLOMON NORTHUP (Chiwtel Ejiofor), an educated black man with a gift for music, lives with his wife and children in Saratoga, New York. One day, when his family is out of town, he is approached by two men claiming to be circus promoters. Solomon agrees to travel with them briefly, playing the fiddle while they perform. But after sharing a drink with the men, he awakens to find he has been drugged and bound and faces a horrifying reality: he is being shipped to the South as a slave.

Rounding out the supporting cast are such people as Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness), Paul Giamatti (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story: Asylum), Paul Dano (Looper), Scoot McNairy (Argo) and Michael Kenneth Williams (Boardwalk Empire), who drew from a script co-written by McQueen and John Ridley (Three Kings, Red Tails).

12 Years a Slave is similar to last year’s Oscar-winning Lincoln (in terms of the great cast and creative talent), but its explicit focus on American slavery – coupled with McQueen’s more unflinching and raw storytelling tendencies – should prevent it from reaching anywhere near the box office success equal to Steven Spielberg’s film. However, in terms of creative merits, McQueen’s picture has the potential to be just as captivating (if not more so).

Look for 12 Years a Slave in theaters, beginning on December 27th, 2013.

Source: Fox Searchlight