Steve McQueen‘s latest film 12 Years a Slave is a harsh drama set in the south and centers on Solomon Northup, a man living in New York during the mid-1800s who’s kidnapped and sold into slavery in the deep south. It’s bluntly been described as Django Unchained — but without the comedy. The film is based off of Northup’s autobiography and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and a slew of other stellar actors and actresses, including Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti and Benedict Cumberbatch.
McQueen first made a name form himself with Hunger, the story of Irish republican Bobby Sands who lead the inmates of a Northern Irish prison in a hunger strike. His other film Shame, which followed a New York Ad Exec who indulges in his sexual addictions, and was easily one of the best films of 2011. Coincidentally enough, each film has featured Michael Fassbender.
This time, however, Fassbender plays Edwin Epps, a ruthless plantation owner, whose performance, McQueen says, is “one that no one’s ever seen before, and that’s saying something.” Cumberbatch plays Baptist preacher William Ford, Northup’s first owner.
While Pitt’s role is small, he doubles as one of the film’s producers, and thus essential. McQueen had this to say about Pitt:
“Without Brad, this film wouldn’t have been made. Fact. Just his presence sometimes could lift everyone’s mood. It’s like having a great ballplayer on a team. He doesn’t have to play a big role, but his presence can lift everyone’s game.”
The film also stars Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, Dwight Henry, Quvenzhane Wallis, Scoot McNairy, Michael Kenneth Williams and Garret Dillahunt. 12 Years a Slave hits theaters December 27, 2013. Check out other stills below.