Steve McQueen's '12 Years a Slave' made its hotly anticipated debut at the Toronto Film Festival this week to a reception of rave reviews and standing ovations.

Brad Pitt Toronto Film festival
Brad Pitt at the Toronto Film Festival

'12 Years A Slave' engages with the brutal and violent past of slavery in North America and McQueen's chilling deception of torture, beatings and killings that slaves became accustomed to left audience members shocked and stunned, and some even walked out of the screening. The profound effect on the audience, according to Entertainment Weekly is due to the "violence spun into a daily fabric of brutality, one that's neither heightened nor exaggerated, just scarily real". The accuracy of the film is a harrowing reminder of the struggle African Americans suffered, and maybe that's a part of history the audience wanted to forget.

The plot follows a free-born African American called Solomon Northup, who is kidnapped, taken to Louisiana and forced into slavery. British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon and admitted to the press, including The Independent, that "Solomon's story is full of [violence] but also full of beauty and hope and human respect and dignity," he said. "With Steve there to guide it, we weren't afraid to explore all that, and go to those dark places".

Watch '12 Years A Slave' trailer here

Although there are scenes that are hard to watch, what do the critics have to say?

Critics have universally raved about this film with William Gross of saying "Northup's story was a true, terrible thing, and by virtue of telling it, the burdens of all American slaves are unflinchingly realized by Ejiofor and McQueen alike". Erik Davis of adds, "This might just be one of the most powerful films you ever watch".

Benedict Cumberbatch toronto film festival
Benedict Cumberbatch stars in the film as William Ford, a baptist preacher and slave owner

Brad Pitt who not only starred in but also produced this film with his own company 'Plan B' attended the premiere at Toronto and in an interview with Variety he said "It's one of those rare moments where story, performance and storytelling come together at the level," he added "We're very proud of it". The star studded cast also includes Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Giamatti.

The film has received two standing ovations at the festival and is already the bookies' favourite to take home the Oscar for Best Picture. It is safe to say that '12 Years A Slave' is definitely a must see.

Michael Fassbender toronto film festival
Michael Fassbender stars as Edwin Epps, a cruel plantation owner

The film is based on the 1853 autobiography by Solomon Northup and is set for release on 18th October 2013.

Click here to see all our photos from the premiere of 12 Years A Slave.