The BBC has released a trailer for its upcoming anthology series Small Axe, a collection of five films directed by Steve McQueen.
The films will air on BBC One beginning in November, telling a variety of stories—fictional and non-fictional—set in London’s West Indian community from the 1960s to the 1980s.
The trailer gives away little detail about the plots of each individual film, but based on the images we see of police officers clashing with members of the public (as well as McQueen’s directorial history, which includes films such as 12 Years a Slave), audiences can certainly expect the films to grapple with Britain’s historical issues surrounding racism. The series’ title comes from a Jamaican proverb: ‘If you are the big tree, we are the small axe,’ something that will certainly relate to the films themselves.
The first film in the series is titled Mangrove and stars Shaun Parkes as Frank Crichlow, the owner of the titular Caribbean restaurant situated in Notting Hill. Letitia Wright and Malachi Kirby co-star as leader of the British Black Panthers, Altheia Jones-LeCointe and activist Darcus Howe respectively, who are wrongfully arrested after leading a peaceful protest against police, who consistently raid Frank’s restaurant without good reason. Mangrove will open the 64th BFI London Film Festival on 7 October, before airing on BBC One in November.
Lovers Rock features Blue Story star Michael Ward and newcomer Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn as young lovers at a party in 1980. The film takes its title from the romantic reggae genre, and is described as “an ode to the Black youth who found freedom and love in its sound in London house parties, when they were unwelcome in white nightclubs.” The film opened this year’s New York Film Festival last week to rave reviews from critics.
Education stars Kenyah Sandy as 12-year-old Kingsley, who is sent to a special needs school that, unbeknownst to Kingsley’s parents, carries an unofficial segregation policy. Kingsley struggles at the school, until a group of West Indian women take matters into their own hands. Sharlene Smith, Daniel Francis, Tamara Lawrance and Naomi Ackie co-star.
Alex Wheatle tells the true story of award-winning author Alex Wheatle, who finds a sense of belonging in Brixton before being imprisoned after 1981’s Brixton Uprising, where he is forced to confront his past. Sheyi Cole stars as the author, and Jonathan Jules, Robbie Gee, Elliott Edusah, Cecelia Noble and Johann Myers appear in supporting roles.
The final film in the series is likely to be the most controversial. Red, White, and Blue stars John Boyega as real-life Leroy Logan, a young forensic scientist who re-evaluates his career choice after seeing his father assaulted by police officers. Wanting to make institutional change to the system, he enrols into the Metropolitan Police Force, where he must grapple not only with disapproval from his family, but with the blatant racism he faces on the job. Steve Toussaint, Tyrone Huntley, Nathan Vidal and Jaden Osgenye co-star in the film, which is set to premiere at NYFF before its airing later this year.
In a statement, McQueen said: ‘I felt these stories needed to be shared. I wanted to re-live, re-evaluate and investigate the journeys that my parents and the first generation of West Indians went on to deliver me here today calling myself a Black British person. What’s important about our stories is that they are local but at the same time global. I think audiences will identify with the trials, tribulations and joy of our characters as well as reflecting on the present environment in which we find ourselves.’
Small Axe is set to air on BBC One and BBC iPlayer, starting in November.
Words by Matt Taylor
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