Small Axe to premiere on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Sunday 15 November

BBC One has announced that Mangrove, the first film from Steve McQueen’s highly anticipated Small Axe collection of films, will premiere on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Sunday 15 November.

Published: 7 October 2020
A black man stands up in court
Pictured (front row): Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), Altheia Jones (Letitia Wright), Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), Barbara Beese (Rochenda Sandall)
Although all five films take place between the late 1960s and mid-80s, they are just as much a comment on the present moment as they were then. They are about the past, yet they are very much concerned with the present.
— Steve McQueen

The five original films that make up the Small Axe collection by Academy Award, Bafta and Golden Globe-winning filmmaker, Steve McQueen will air weekly on BBC One.

Set from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, the films each tell a story involving London’s West Indian community, whose lives have been shaped by their own force of will, despite rampant racism and discrimination. Even though this collection of films is set some decades ago, the stories are as vital and timely today as they were for the West Indian community in London at the time. Small Axe is a celebration of Black joy, beauty, love, friendship, family, music and even food; each one, in its own unique way, conveys hard-won successes, bringing hope and optimism for 2020.

Steve McQueen explains: “The seed of Small Axe was sown 11 years ago. Initially, I had conceived of it as a TV series, but I realised these stories had to stand alone as original films, yet at the same time be part of a collective. The anthology, anchored in the West Indian experience in London, is a celebration of all that that community has succeeded in achieving against the odds.

"Although all five films take place between the late 1960s and mid-80s, they are just as much a comment on the present moment as they were then. They are about the past, yet they are very much concerned with the present. A commentary on where we were, where we are and where we want to go.”

Lucy Richer, Senior Drama Commissioner and Executive Producer for the BBC: “It has been an honour to work with Steve to bring Small Axe to screen. With his visionary genius as a filmmaker he has made incredible, life-changing, life-affirming films which tell burning stories from our past and blaze a trail for the future.

"These inspiring films of truth and powerful purpose celebrate ordinary lives, and we are delighted to bring them to BBC One and BBC iPlayer this November.”

Small Axe has been executive produced by Tracey Scoffield and David Tanner for Turbine Studios and Steve McQueen for Lammas Park. Mike Elliot is producing for EMU Films with Turbine and Anita Overland. The executive producers for the BBC are Lucy Richer, Senior Commissioning Editor for Drama and Rose Garnett, Director of BBC Film. Amazon Studios is co-producing within the US. BBC Studios are the international distributors and are handling global television sales.

Small Axe will premiere on BBC One and iPlayer, and air on Amazon Prime Video in the US.

JS

Mangrove

Sunday 15 November, BBC One and BBC iPlayer

The film, which opens the London Film Festival, centres on Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), the owner of Notting Hill’s Caribbean restaurant Mangrove, a lively community base for locals, intellectuals and activists.

In a reign of racist terror, the local police raid Mangrove time after time, making Frank and the local community take to the streets in peaceful protest in 1970. When nine men and women, including Frank and leader of the British Black Panther Movement Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright) and activist Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby) are wrongly arrested and charged with incitement to riot, a highly publicised trial ensues, leading to hard-fought win for those fighting against discrimination.

Letitia Wright (Black Panther), Shaun Parkes (Lost In Space), and Malachi Kirby (Curfew) star alongside Rochenda Sandall (Line Of Duty), Jack Lowden (The Long Song), Sam Spruell (Snow White And The Huntsmen), Gershwyn Eustache (The Gentleman), Nathaniel Martello-White (Collateral), Richie Campbell (Liar), Jumayn Hunter (Les Miserables), and Gary Beadle (Summer Of Rockets).

Mangrove was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen.

  • Education was originally billed to air on Sunday 29 November; Red, White And Blue was originally billed to air on Sunday 13 December

Lovers Rock

A couple dance around a swing in an underground vault
Patty (Shaniqua Okwok), Martha (Amarah-Jae St-Aubyn) in Lovers Rock

Sunday 22 November, BBC One and BBC iPlayer

Lovers Rock tells a fictional story of young love at a Blues party in 1980. The film is an ode to the romantic reggae genre, Lovers Rock, and to the Black youth who found freedom and love in its sound in London house parties when they were unwelcome in white nightclubs.

Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn makes her screen debut opposite the Bafta’s 2020 Rising Star award recipient Micheal Ward (Top Boy). Shaniqua Okwok (Boys), Kedar Williams-Stirling (Sex Education), Ellis George (Dr Who), Alexander James-Blake (Top Boy), and Kadeem Ramsay (Blue Story) also star, as well as Francis Lovehall and Daniel Francis-Swaby who make their screen debuts.

Lovers Rock was co-written by Courttia Newland and Steve McQueen.

Red, White and Blue

A black policeman stares at a colleague
John Boyega as Leroy Logan in Red, White and Blue

Sunday 29 November, BBC One and BBC iPlayer

Red, White and Blue tells the true story of Leroy Logan, a young forensic scientist with a yearning to do more than his solitary laboratory work. When he sees his father assaulted by two policemen, he finds himself driven to revisiting a childhood ambition to become a police officer - an ambition borne from the naïve hope of wanting to change racist attitudes from within.

First, Leroy has to face the consequences of his father’s disapproval, never mind the blatant racism he finds in his new role as a despised - yet exemplary - Constable in the Metropolitan Police Force.

John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Steve Toussaint (Prince Of Persia) star with talented newcomers Tyrone Huntley, Nathan Vidal and Jaden Oshenye.

Red, White and Blue was co-written by Courttia Newland and Steve McQueen.

Alex Wheatle

A young black man carries a bundle of linen inside a prison
Alex Wheatle (Sheyi Cole)

Sunday 6 December, BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

Alex Wheatle follows the true story of award-winning writer, Alex Wheatle (Sheyi Cole), from a young boy through his early adult years.

Having spent his childhood in a mostly white institutional care home with no love or family, he finally finds not only a sense of community for the first time in Brixton, but his identity and opportunity to grow his passion for music and DJing. When he is thrown in prison during the Brixton Uprising of 1981, he confronts his past and sees a path to healing.

Sheyi Cole stars opposite Jonathan Jules.

Alex Wheatle was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen.

Education

A young black boy in school uniform in a corridor
Kenyah Sandy as Kingsley Smith in Education

Sunday 13 December, BBC One and BBC iPlayer

Education the coming of age story of 12 year-old Kingsley (Kenyah Sandy) with a fascination for astronauts and rockets. When Kingsley is pulled to the Headmaster’s office for being disruptive in class, he discovers he’s being sent to school for those with 'special needs'.

Distracted by working two jobs, his parents (Sharlene Whyte, Daniel Francis) are unaware of what was the unofficial segregation policy at play that is preventing many Black children from having the education they deserve - until a group of West Indian women take matters into their own hands.

Bafta-award winning Naomi Ackie (End of the F***ing World) also stars. Education was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen.