Over recent weeks, audiences and critics alike have been raving about the new movie 12 Years A Slave.

The film, which depicts the real-life story of a free man sold into slavery in America's Deep South during the 19th century, shows the brutality and horror of slavery amid extraordinary moments of natural beauty and human resilience.

The film is the third feature by director Steve McQueen, a one-time video and installation artist who spent years in West London. McQueen's films, while not always easy to watch - our reviewer Tim Cooke called it fiercely frank and aesthetically astounding - have been lauded for their ability to mix visual artistry with raw human emotion.

McQueen was born in on October 9, 1969 and grew up in West London. He attended Drayton Manor High School and life was far from easy. He suffered from dyslexia and also had a lazy eye which required that he wear an eyepatch, which made him a target for school-yard taunts.

Though he showed a keen interest in football, McQueen would find his way to art. He took an A-level in the subject at Hammersmith and West London College before moving on to the Chelsea College of Art and Design and then the prestigious Goldsmiths College.

Following a brief sojourn in the United States, McQueen found himself back in England where he began producing major works of art.

These included a number of short films made in the mid 1990s but also across other mediums such as the 2006 piece Queen and Country, which commemorated the death of British soldiers in Iraq by showing their protraits as a sheet of stamps.

It was in 2008 that McQueen produced his first major feature film Hunger, a historical drama set in the notorious Maze Prison in Northern Ireland.

The film centered on a dirty protest and eventual hunger strike led by Bobby Sands, an IRA volunteer fighting to regain political status for imprisoned Republicans.

 

Featuring an incredible performance by Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands, the film was an artistic triumph, with moments of extraordinary beauty and calm amid images of suffering and degradation. Much of the film contained no dialogue, save for a crucial scene two-thirds of the way through the film, where Bobby Sands and a priest discuss the wider implications of his decision to take part in the hunger strike.

The 15-minute-long sequence was shot in a single take. Critics showered the film with praise and McQueen had arrived.

His next movie was 2011's Shame, once again starring Michael Fassbender as the main protagonist. Set in a modern-day New York City, it was a dark, brooding meditation on the nature of sex addiction. Like its predecessor, it often made for uncomfortable viewing but had exquisite moments of visual artistry.

The film was met with more critical praise and also met with commercial success, earning $14 million worldwide off the back of a $2 million budget. But it is 12 Years A Slave that has well and truly cemented McQueen's as not only a great British director but also a world-class filmmaker.

It is based on the incredible true story of Solomom Northup, a free black man in New York who was abducted and forced into slavery. With an astonishing performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northup, the film reunited McQueen with Fassbender, who this time stars as a sadistic plantation owner.

The film has stunned audience moviegoers across the world and earned a virtual tidal wave of praise from critics. It received a Golden Globe Award for best picture and has been nominated for nine Academy Awards.

McQueen shows so signs of slowing down. One of his next projects will be a television series for the BBC about the experience of Black britons across the decades.