Character profile: Hortense Roberts (Naomie Harris)
Born out of wedlock in an illegitimate, but not loveless, liaison between her affluent Jamaican father and an illiterate farm girl, Hortense is brought up by her father’s cousin as playmate to his son, Michael. After Michael’s return from boarding school, Hortense realises her feelings for him are more than just fraternal.
A naturally proud and headstrong woman, Hortense has always kept her true parentage a secret. She also has a strong sense of her own destiny: to live in England with Michael and be a teacher there. When Michael is sent away to the war, Hortense instinctively fights to keep her dream alive and proposes to Gilbert, a man she hardly knows, but someone who will aid her passage to England. She arrives in a country which both surprises and disappoints her in its bleak and unfriendly ‘greyness’, but it is through this new life that she discovers a different side to her character and, for the first time, the meaning of true love.
Character profile: Queenie Bligh (Ruth Wilson)
Pretty Queenie is a tough survivor, with a good heart. Brought up on a pig farm in Yorkshire, from an early age she grows to hate the smell of the pigs, the squalor and the blood. With dreams of escape, she finally gets her wish when her kindly Aunt sends the train fare to London. Queenie is open-minded and hungry for new experiences. Full of youth and vitality, she goes to London with hope in her heart. Despite trying to better herself with elocution lessons, she can never quite shake her Yorkshire vowels.
When an unexpected death forces her into the arms of the educated but rather uninspiring Bernard, Queenie believes that her dreams are lost to her forever. But the war brings Queenie new experiences when Bernard is sent to the front line, and she embarks upon a dangerous but ultimately awakening affair.
Character profile: Gilbert Joseph (David Oyelowo)
Gilbert appears the charming fool, but underneath he is a principled and naturally idealistic man who signs up to fight the war in England - not only with hopes of bettering himself, but also because he knows the world will be a darker place if Hitler is not defeated.
He has come from a poor but happy family in Jamaica and has tried to make his way despite being plagued by bad luck. His disappointments in England do not diminish him, and he relishes the newly opened-up world. On returning to Jamaica, he realises quite how small his island is. Unable to afford the fare for the Empire Windrush, he accepts the offer from the proud and uppity Hortense to pay for his passage in exchange for marriage. He knows he is being bought and is aware that he's cheap at the price. His marriage to Hortense may be one of convenience, but over time she begins to see the noble, kind and wise man that Gilbert is, which allows him to grow into the person he was destined to become.
Character profile: Bernard Bligh (Benedict Cumberbatch)
Bernard Bligh is a middle-ranking bank clerk in his late twenties. He’s lived alone with his father in a large house in London ever since his mother died. His father suffers from shellshock after serving in the Great War and, as a result, never speaks.
Into this quiet and stable life breezes the lovely Queenie, who works at the shop where he buys The Times every day. She awakens in him feelings that he didn’t know he had, and after several outings he plucks up the courage to kiss her. After their marriage, Bernard soon reverts to his repressed and buttoned-down state, unable to open up and become the man and husband Queenie needs. Like many he suffers psychologically in the war, so much so that he cannot even recognise himself. Deep down, he knows he’ll never be enough for Queenie, but he can’t stop loving her.
Character profile: Michael Roberts (Ashley Walters)
Michael is the son of the strict and god-fearing Mr Philip. Beguiling and non-conformist, with a streak of luck that runs through his life, Michael is brought up alongside Hortense - his rebellious streak always leading her into mischief. Hortense adores him, but he can only see her as a younger sister and is oblivious to her feelings. Returning from boarding school as an independent, handsome man, Michael soon begins a scandalous affair with a local teacher before joining the British Army.
When he finds Queenie in England, he feels an immediate connection to her, but Michael’s selfish nature means he can never be tied down.
BBC History: Windrush arrivals
Passengers who boarded the SS Empire Windrush were told that they were headed for the 'mother country' and that they were all welcome. What did they experience after their arrival in Britain? Seven Windrush passengers tell their stories.Read the stories of Windrush arrivals on BBC History