Set on a sugarcane plantation during the final days of slavery in 19th-century Jamaica, The Long Song stars Tamara Lawrance as strong-willed young slave July and Hayley Atwell as her awful mistress Caroline Mortimer.
With further cast including Lenny Henry and Jack Lowden, this three-part drama – adapted by Sarah Williams from Andrea Levy’s prize-winning novel and directed by Mahalia Belo – aired 18th-20th December 2018 on BBC One. In the US, the series is currently airing on Sundays at 10/9c on PBS.
Here are the key characters you need to meet – and the actors who play them:
Tamara Lawrance plays July
Who is July? A young slave girl who lives at Amity, a Jamaican sugarcane plantation. Taken from her mother’s side as a child, separated from the field slaves and renamed “Marguerite”, she has been brought up in the main house as Miss Caroline’s lady’s maid. July has an unbreakable spirit and will to survive, finding humour in the darkest moments.
What else has Tamara Lawrance been in? Since making her professional debut a couple of years ago, the actress has built up quite a CV. She starred in series three of Channel 4’s No Offence in the role of Bonnie Sands, and has also appeared in The Split and Undercover. Lawrance had a leading role in the 2017 BBC television film King Charles III as Prince Harry’s revolutionary girlfriend, and played Molly in On Chesil Beach. Her stage credits include Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Unreachable (with Matt Smith), Twelfth Night (with Tamsin Greig) and King Lear (with Ian McKellen).
What does Tamara Lawrance thing of July? “At the start, she’s mischevious, rebellious and quite brave. A lot stronger and more courageous than what I consider myself to be and she’s got a really salient spirit. She has this… admirable quality – she can just survive and she knows how to keep going but retrospectively I don’t know if she’s aware of all that.
“She’s a real product of trauma, actually.”
Hayley Atwell plays Miss Caroline Mortimer
Who is Miss Caroline? Miss Caroline is the sister of plantation owner John Howarth. Once married, she now lives at Amity and relies completely on her slave girl July (or “Marguerite”) for practical help and companionship. An odd and extremely insecure woman, she is looked down on by the other white women in the neighbourhood and is full of self-pity and fear.
What else has Hayley Atwell been in? Marvel fans may recognise her as Peggy Carter, who – since 2011 – has appeared in the Captain America movies, Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, and her own spin-off TV series, Agent Carter. Hayley Atwell has also starred in The Duchess, The Pillars of the Earth, Howards End, and Christopher Robin.
Doña Croll plays old July
Who is old July? The Long Song is adapted from the novel by Andrea Levy, which is written as a 19th century memoir by an elderly Jamaican woman looking back on her youth in the final days of slavery – and the difficult transition to freedom. In the TV adaptation, we see old July writing out her story in fountain pen and ink, pausing to reflect on her life.
What else has Doña Croll been in? The Jamaican-born British actress has appeared on TV as Emerald Fox in EastEnders, Pearl McHugh in Family Affairs, and Vera Corrigan in Doctors. She is also an acclaimed theatre actress, and played the first-ever black Cleopatra on the British stage in a 1991 production of William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.
Lenny Henry plays Godfrey
Who is Godfrey? A house slave who has worked for 45 years on the plantation at Amity. He has a wry sense of humour and gets pleasure out of small rebellions – like putting dirty bedsheets on the table instead of the nice linen.
What else has Lenny Henry been in? Sir Lenny Henry is an English stand-up comedian as well as an actor, singer, writer, TV presenter, university chancellor, and co-founder of the charity Comic Relief. The son of Jamaican immigrants, he has been performing since the 1970s and has recently appeared in Broadchurch, The Syndicate, and Danny and the Human Zoo.
Jordan Bolger plays Nimrod
Who is Nimrod? A freed slave who often visits Amity, particularly to see (and flirt with) July. Until the slave rebellion and Baptist War of 1831, their relationship seems an impossible dream.
What else has Jordan Bolger been in? Jordan Bolger’s most notable role is Isaiah Jesus in Peaky Blinders. His other credits include Into the Badlands, The 100, and In the Dark.
Jack Lowden plays new overseer Robert
Who is Robert? A charming new arrival to Jamaica who takes the job of overseer at the Amity plantation. He has a seemingly revolutionary determination to improve the plantation for slave and owner alike in the post-abolition age, ideas which intrigue both July and her mistress Caroline Mortimer.
What else has Jack Lowden been in? The actor starred as Nikolai Rostov in 2016’s War & Peace. Since then, he has played Tony Benn in A United Kingdom, Lord Henry Darnley in Mary Queen of Scots, and RAF fighter pilot Collins in Dunkirk. He is also an Olivier award-winning stage actor, with theatre credits including Ghosts and Chariots of Fire.
Sharon Duncan-Brewster plays Kitty
Who is Kitty? July’s mother. She was used for sex by the Scottish overseer and became pregnant with his child, but had her daughter taken away when she was only seven. Kitty remains a field slave, labouring away in the sugarcane plantation and desperately missing her daughter July.
What else has Sharon Duncan-Brewster been in? The actress starred as Crystal Gordon in ITV prison drama Bad Girls. She has since appeared in EastEnders (as Trina Johnson), Doctor Who episode The Waters of Mars (as Maggie Cain), Star Wars movie Rogue One (as Senator Pamlo), Cucumber (as Maureen), and Top Boy (as Lisa). Duncan-Brewster may also sound familiar to video game fans, as she is the voice of Catherine Hunter on FIFA 17, FIFA 18 and FIFA 19.
Ayesha Antoine plays Molly
Who is Molly? A slave on the Amity plantation, and a friend of July’s.
What else has Ayesha Antoine been in? The actress is best-known for playing Rachel Baptiste in Holby City and Poppy Silver in Grange Hill. She also guest-starred in the Doctor Who episode Midnight, playing Dee Dee Blasco.
Further cast includes:
- Leo Bill as Caroline’s brother and plantation owner John Howarth
- James Richards as Ansu Kabia
- Clarisse Albrecht as Mary Ellis
- Luis Bryan Mesa as Byron
- Jo Martin as Hannah
- Joy Richardson as Miss Rose
- Leighton Hudson as Benjamin
- Kara-Leah Fernandes as young July
- Madeleine Mantock as Miss Clara
In the UK, the three parts of The Long Song aired 18th-20th December 2018 on BBC One.
In the US, the series started on Sunday 31st January at 10/9c on PBS, with episodes airing weekly.