Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave won the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival – the highest honour bestowed by organisers – with fellow Brit Stephen Frears’ Philomena named as runner-up.
McQueen’s movie, which tells the true story of a black man kidnapped and sold into slavery, won universal acclaim from critics upon its premiere at the festival, touted from the outset to take home the main prize.
The People’s Choice Award has become known in recent years for picking the future Best Picture winner at the Oscars, with recent recipients including Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech.
Frears’ Philomena is likewise based on real-life events: a dramatisation of a mother’s search to find the son the Catholic church forced her to give up for adoption, starring Judy Dench in the titular role and Steve Coogan as a journalist assisting in her quest.
This award success has marked something of a stand-out year for British directing talent at Toronto. Other UK films wowing critics in Canada included Ralph Fiennes' The Invisible Woman, Richard Ayoade's The Double, Roger Michell's Le Week-end and David Mackenzie's Starred Up, with Justin Chadwick’s Mandela, Amma Asante's Belle and Kevin Macdonald’s How I Live Now also feted by the festival's audiences.
The festival’s artistic director Cameron Bailey was particularly generous in his praise for the current UK directing crop:
"There's a kind of intensity of expression happening among UK film-makers," he said. "They're upping the game collectively. There is a willingness and an ability to confront the harsh realities of life in a way that strips away artifice and niceties and shows you what the film-maker believes to be the truth of the situation."
For more on the Toronto Film Festival awards, click here.