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24 September 2014
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BBC One and BBC Drama announce adaptation of Andrea Levy's Small Island


Update – 26 August 2009: this press release has been updated to include further casting and production information.


BBC One and BBC Drama today announce the commission of an ambitious 2 x 90-minute adaptation of Andrea Levy's entrancing and moving multi-award winning novel, Small Island.

 

Paula Milne (The Virgin Queen) and Sarah Williams (Becoming Jane, The Secret Life Of Mrs Beeton) have adapted Small Island for Ruby Television in association with AL Films, with John Alexander (Life On Mars, Survivors) directing.

 

From the heat and hustle of life in Forties Jamaica through to the devastation of London in the Blitz, Small Island is an ambitious yet personal tale which deftly touches on the weighty themes of empire, prejudice and war, with a gentle touch and a warm, uplifting generosity of spirit.

 

Small Island boasts a stellar cast for BBC One next Autumn: Naomie Harris (Pirates Of The Caribbean, 28 Days Later), David Oyelowo (Five Days, The Last King Of Scotland), Ruth Wilson(Jane Eyre, Capturing Mary), Benedict Cumberbatch (Starter For Ten, Stuart: A Life Backwards), Ashley Walters (Hustle, Bullet Boy) and Nikki Amuka-Bird (The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, Survivors).

 

Small Island is an epic love story about the determined pursuit of dreams in the face of seemingly insurmountable barriers.

 

Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, in a time when landlords would put up signs that read "'No Irish, no coloureds, no dogs", it follows the interlocking lives of Queenie (Wilson), her Jamaican lodger, Gilbert (Oyelowo), his wife Hortense (Harris), and Queenie's husband Bernard (Cumberbatch) and the mysterious Michael who binds their lives together (Ashley Walters).

 

Leaving her best friend Celia (Amuka-Bird) behind in Jamaica, Hortense Joseph arrives in England ready to start a new life with her husband.

 

Having studied at private school, Hortense is looking forward to putting her teaching qualification to good use in the enlightenment of English children.

 

When she finally joins her husband she is shocked to discover that London is not quite the place she imagined.

 

About his first commission for BBC Drama as Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning, Ben Stephenson said: "We are thrilled about bringing this epic yet personal romance story to BBC One.

 

"It is hugely exciting to be able to put such an esteemed modern classic on BBC One where it will complement our classic adaptations.

 

"Andrea Levy's rich and moving novel has been brought to the screen with wonderful sensitivity by Paula and Sarah and it is no surprise it has brought such a world class director and cast to it."

 

Alison Owen of Ruby Television said: "We fell in love with Andrea's beautiful love story, set in this untold piece of our history.

 

"It's great that, through BBC One, we can help bring it to a wider audience."

 

The novel was the winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year and Commonwealth Writers' Prize awards in 2005. In addition it was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2004, and Orange 'Best of the Best' prize in 2005.

 

Small Island is the latest BBC Drama commission for transmission next year.

 

Other new dramas for 2009 include Hope Springs starring Alex Kingston and BBC Two's Moses Jones And Five Minutes Of Heaven, which is co-produced by Ruby.

 

Dramas making a welcome return to BBC One next year include New Tricks, Silent Witness, Hotel Babylon and Robin Hood.

 

Small Island begins filming early next year for transmission in autumn 2009 on BBC One.

 

Executive Producers for Small Island are Alison Owen (Elizabeth, Proof, The Other Boleyn Girl), Paul Trijbits and Paula Milne. The producers are Joanna Anderson and Vicky Licorish. The executive producer for the BBC is Lucy Richer, Commissioning Editor, Independent Drama Commissioning.

 

Small Island is a Ruby Television production in association with AL Films for BBC One coproduced with WGBH, made on location in Northern Ireland with the assistance of Northern Ireland Screen.

 

Small Island was commissioned for BBC One by Ben Stephenson and Jay Hunt, Controller, BBC One.

 

LH2/NF

 

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Category: TV Drama; BBC One
Date: 23.10.2008
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