First things first – no we’re not talking about Steve McQueen, the American actor of The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape fame who died in 1980. This is Steve McQueen, the British director.

And why should you bother getting to know him? Well, you’re about to see a lot of him. His harrowing drama 12 Years a Slave has just been nominated for a whopping seven Golden Globes, and that’s a pretty good indication that he’ll received Bafta and Oscar nods in the New Year as well.

So, here are the 10 things you need to know about Steve McQueen…


◊ McQueen was born in Ealing in 1969 and is of Trinidadian and Grenadian descent.

◊ He started his career as an artist. He used to make short films - often silent and in black and white - that were projected in art galleries,.

◊ He won the Turner Prize in 1999 for his film based on a Buster Keaton movie, but you probably didn’t hear about it because all the media attention went to Tracey Emin’s nominated exhibit, My Bed .

◊ In 2006, McQueen went to Iraq as an official war artist. The following year he presented Queen and Country, a piece which commemorated the deaths of British soldiers who died in the Iraq War by showing their portraits as a sheet of stamps.

◊ For services to the visual arts, he was awarded a CBE in 2011.

◊ McQueen loves to collaborate with X-Men’s Michael Fassbender – he has starred in all three of the director’s feature films.

◊ He won the Caméra d'Or award for first-time directors at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 for his debut feature Hunger. It was the first time a British director had won the award.

◊ Hunger is a highly praised examination of the 1981 Irish hunger strike. The German-Irish Fassbender plays McQueen’s lead, Bobby Sands, the real-life IRA hunger striker who died in jail protesting that he should be treated as a prisoner of war.

◊ Shame was McQueen’s second feature film. Fassbender plays a sex addict whose life is turned upside-down by the unexpected arrival of his estranged sister (Carey Mulligan). On release in 2011 it proved controversial, to say the least.

◊ 12 Years a Slave is McQueen’s third film and is garnering a lot of awards buzz. It’s based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man (played by British actor Chiwitel Ejiofor) who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery. The film has been part of a new trend of recent movies about slavery and civil rights, alongside the likes of The Butler and Django Unchained.


You should now be fully acquainted with Steve McQueen the director, and when his name comes up in conversation in the next few months as it inevitably will, you can be all smug and say “Oh, Steve McQueen? Yes I know all about him”. Just don’t mention the Great Escape…

12 Years a Slave is in cinemas on January 10, 2014.