Is Small Axe: Lovers Rock based on a true story?

Steve McQueen's latest film brings the Blues party to life on screen like never before.

Michael Ward and Amarah-Jae St Aubyn in Small Axe: Lovers Rock (BBC)

Steve McQueen’s anthology series Small Axe continues this weekend, telling another story about London’s West Indian community in Lovers Rock.

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Set in 1980, the film revolves around two young people, Martha (Amarah-Jae St Aubyn) and Franklyn (Michael Ward), who first cross paths at a house party set to a soundtrack of tunes from the romantic Lovers Rock genre of reggae.

The film follows their blossoming relationship and celebrates the Blues parties that were a hugely important space for West Indian people at that time.

But how much truth is there to the story of Lovers Rock? Read on for everything you need to know.

Is Small Axe: Lovers Rock a true story?

Unlike most of the other entries in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series of films, Lovers Rock is not a direct retelling of a true story although it does have its foundation in history.

While the characters of Martha and Franklyn are fictional, the Blues house party at which they meet was inspired by many such events that were frequently held during that period.

Executive producer Tracey Scoffield said: “Lovers Rock sits apart from its Small Axe siblings in that it does not tell a true story of a person or group of individuals taking on the system, but is rather a collective reimagining of a time and place very precious to West Indian Londoners.

“These house parties where the house owners would clear their rooms of furniture and bring in a sound system; large, often home-made speakers together with the crew who would play the music – the DJ, who spoke to the crowd, and the Selector, the one who chose the music.

“Word would get around the neighbourhood and partygoers would pay an entrance fee. For the older West Indian community Lovers Rock will bring back many happy memories; and I hope it inspires a new incarnation of Blues from younger audiences.”

Small Axe: Lovers Rock on BBC One
BBC

With this in mind, while the story of Martha and Franklyn isn’t strictly true, Lovers Rock is not entirely a work of the imagination and some viewers at home may well recall similar tales from their own youth.

Filmmaker Steve McQueen has revealed that his co-writer on Lovers Rock, Courttia Newland, had memories of the legendary parties from his early years that helped craft the screenplay.

“Courttia’s mother used to have parties at his house, so he remembered a lot of that stuff as a child. I came to it through my aunt,” he said.

“I remember stories my aunt would tell, she wasn’t allowed to go to these parties, but my uncle would leave the backdoor open for her so she could go to the Blues. They lived in Shepherd’s Bush, which is next door to Ladbroke Grove.

“She’d sneak off to Ladbroke Grove which is where the dance was, and then come back in the morning and have to go to church. It was like Cinderella!”

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Small Axe: Lovers Rock airs on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday 22nd November. While you’re waiting, visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight, or check out our guide to new TV shows 2020 to find out what’s airing this autumn and beyond.