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,
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
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
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.
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.