Steve McQueen’s latest drama is a much-hyped anthology series telling stories from London’s West Indian community between the 1960s and 1980s.
Each episode is a self-contained film capturing a pivotal moment from Black British history, with a cast ranging from established Hollywood stars like John Boyega and Letitia Wright to exciting screen newcomers.
Small Axe kicks off with Mangrove, which tells the story of nine peaceful protestors who were wrongfully arrested and charged with incitement to riot, after standing up against racial discrimination.
Read on for all you need to know about the cast.
Episode 1: Mangrove
Letitia Wright plays Altheia Jones-Lecointe
Who is Altheia Jones-Lecointe?A physician and research scientist, she rises to national prominence in the 1960s and 70s as a leading figure in the British Black Panther movement. Jones-Lecointe is also one of the Mangrove Nine, who is wrongly accused of incitement to riot.
What else has Letitia Wright been in? Wright is best known for her role as Shuri in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the younger sister of King T’Challa, aka Black Panther, who was played by the late Chadwick Boseman. She has also appeared in Netflix’s Black Mirror, Channel 4’s Humans and Donald Glover’s musical film Guava Island.
Shaun Parkes plays Frank Crichlow
Who is Frank Crichlow? He is the owner of a West Indian restaurant in Notting Hill called Mangrove, which is very popular among locals, activists, artists and intellectuals. However, his establishment is repeatedly the target of police raids, despite there being no evidence of illegal activity whatsoever. The injustice of the situation inspires a peaceful protest, but that brings only more aggression and discrimination.
What else has Shaun Parkes been in? Most recently, Parkes has portrayed Captain Radic on Netflix sci-fi drama Lost in Space, as well as Martin Harris on Channel 4’s The Accident. His earlier projects include Sky’s Hooten & The Lady, BBC One’s Line of Duty, and ITV’s factual drama The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies.
Malachi Kirby plays Darcus Howe
Who is Darcus Howe? Darcus is a Trinidadian activist and one of the wrongly arrested Mangrove Nine. He represents himself in court so that he can speak to the jury directly.
What else has Malachi Kirby been in? Kirby played the lead role of Kunta Kinte in the 2016 remake of slavery drama Roots and also played Stripe in Black Mirror season three episode, Men Against Fire.
Rochenda Sandall plays Barbara Beese
Who is Barbara Beese? Beese is another activist among the Mangrove Nine, who has a relationship with Darcus.
What else has Rochenda Sandall been in? Sandall is best known for her portrayal of Lisa McQueen on BBC One’s Line of Duty and Vanessa Warren on Netflix’s Criminal: UK. She performed Alan Bennett’s The Outside Dog for this year’s lockdown-inspired remake of Talking Heads.
Episode 2: Lovers Rock
Michael Ward plays Franklyn
Who is Franklyn? Franklyn is a flirtatious young man who falls for Martha and convinces her to spend the night dancing with him at a Blues party.
What else has Michael Ward been in? Ward broke out as the star of Netflix’s recent revival of crime drama Top Boy. He has also co-starred in Blue Story, which helped bag him the EE Rising Star Award at this year’s BAFTAs.
Amarah-Jae St Aubyn plays Martha
Who is Martha? Martha is a rebellious and romantic teenager who sneaks out to go to a Blues party one fateful night, where she meets Franklyn and quickly forms a connection.
What else has Amarah-Jae St Aubyn been in? Small Axe is her screen debut.
Kedar Williams-Stirling plays Clifton
What else has Kedar Williams-Stirling been in? Williams-Stirling will be instantly recognisable to fans of Netflix comedy drama Sex Education, where he plays sporty scholar Jackson Marchetti.
Episode 3: Red, White and Blue
John Boyega plays Leroy Logan
Who is Leroy Logan? Leroy is a young man who leaves his highly qualified scientific job to join the police force at a time when racism was rampant. The decision angers his father, who has been a victim of police brutality in the past.
What else has John Boyega been in? Boyega is best known for his role in the Star Wars franchise as stormtrooper-turned-rebel Finn. He has also had lead roles in fellow sci-fi movies Pacific Rim: Uprising and Attack The Block, as well as Kathryn Bigelow period drama Detroit.
Steve Toussaint plays Kenneth Logan
Who is Kenneth Logan? Kenneth is Leroy’s father, who strongly disapproves of his decision to join the police force, after suffering abuse and discrimination from officers in the past.
Antonia Thomas plays Gretl
Who is Gretl? Gretl is Leroy’s girlfriend; the two have been together for a long time and are committed to one another, with plans to move into their own home and have a baby.
What else has Antonia Thomas been in? Thomas broke out as Alisha Daniels on E4’s sci-fi series Misfits, before going on to lead roles on Netflix sitcom Lovesick and medical drama The Good Doctor.
Nadine Marshall plays Jesse
Who is Jesse? Jesse is a relative of the Logan family who has also worked with the police force and supports Leroy’s decision to sign up.
What else has Nadine Marshall been in? Marshall has a number of notable film and television credits, including recent performances in BBC One’s Windrush drama Sitting in Limbo, Channel 4’s The End of the F***ing World and Netflix’s The Innocents.
Tyrone Huntley plays Leee
Who is Leee? Leee is a successful musician and a good friend of Leroy’s, but he struggles to understand his decision to join the police force.
What else has Tyrone Huntley been in? Huntley is making his screen debut with Small Axe.
Episode 4: Alex Wheatle
Sheyi Cole plays Alex Wheatle
Who is Alex Wheatle? In his self-titled Small Axe episode, Wheatle is a teenager finally finding a sense of community in Brixton, after a difficult childhood growing up in care homes. However, things take a dark turn during the Brixton Uprising of 1981, after which he was imprisoned. This episode is based on the true story of Wheatle’s younger years, who is today a successful novelist with an MBE.
What else has Sheyi Cole been in? Cole is making his screen debut here and is currently attending Guildhall School of Music & Drama, after auditioning for Small Axe in secret during his first year.
Episode 5: Education
Kenyah Sandy plays Kingsley Smith
Who is Kingsley? Kingsley is a 12-year-old boy sent to a school for children with “special needs” after being disruptive in class. In reality, he is a victim of an unofficial segregation policy preventing many Black children from having the education they deserve – until his mother steps up to fight back.
What else has Kenyah Sandy been in? Sandy is making his screen debut in Small Axe.
Sharlene Whyte plays Agnes Smith
Who is Agnes Smith? Agnes is Kingsley’s mother who is outraged when she gets word of how her son has been excluded. She leads a fight to get him the education he deserves.
What else has Sharlene Whyte been in? Children of the noughties might recognise Whyte from classic CBBC show The Story of Tracy Beaker, where she played Jenny. Since then, she has appeared in a number of popular shows including Waterloo Road, Spooks and Jonathan Creek.
Small Axe premieres on BBC One on Sunday 15th 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.