Alan Dee’s film preview: After months of advance buzz, 12 Years A Slave finally arrives

Right, you’ve all had quite enough silliness and merriment over the holidays. Now let’s tackle some serious issues, OK?

First up in the ‘released just in time to build up a head of steam for the Oscars’ slot is the much-discussed 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen’s blistering true story of slavery in pre-Civil War America.

Chiwetel Ejiofor has been tipped for all sorts of honours for his performance in the lead role, a free black musician living in mid-19th century New York who is kidnapped and dispatched in chains to the Deep South.

He’s given a new name, sold to a plantation owner and has to buckle down to brutal servitude for more than a decade.

Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt are also in the cast but all eyes are on Ejiofor, and on McQueen who has followed up cult hits like Hunger and Shame with a costume epic that has real clout. The running time is more than two hours, but it will fly by.

Also based on a grim true story is The Railway Man, based on the experiences of a young soldier forced to work on the notorious Burma railway – you know, the Bridge On The River Kwai one – after being captured by the Japanese in the Second World War .

Not surprisingly he’s scarred by the experience and years later is still trying to come to terms with the psychological damage he suffered during three years of hard labour and a daily battle to survive.

Colin Firth plays the older man, and Nicole Kidman is the wife who encourages him to deal with his demons, and eventually track down the captor who brutally tortured him.

It’s a first screenplay credit for Frank Cottrell Boyce since he was on Danny Boyle’s gold medal Olympic opening ceremony team, and it’s a sensitive and engrossing story about damage, despair and forgiveness which again shows just how well Firth does buttoned-up Brits.