John Boyega – of Star Wars fame – will front Small Axe by Steve McQueen, airing later this year, which centres around London’s West Indian community from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s.
Letita Wright from Black Panther, Black Mirror’s Malachi Kirby and Line of Duty actress Rochenda Sandall also star in the landmark series which is inspired by real-life people.
We’ve had small snippets from the highly-anticipated drama already, including two trailers and a few images, one in particular showing Boyega as Leroy Logan, a real-life police officer who wanted to change racist attitudes from within the Met Police force.
Here’s everything you need to know about the highly-anticipated show and the stellar Small Axe cast.
When is Small Axe’s release date?
CONFIRMED: Mangrove, the first of the Small Axe films, will premiere on BBC One on Sunday 15th November. It will also be available on iPlayer.
The five films in the Small Axe collection will then air weekly on BBC One. Here are the specific air dates:
Lovers Rock will air on Sunday 22nd November
Education will air on Sunday 29th November
Alex Wheatle will air on Sunday 6th December
Red, White and Blue will air on Sunday 13th December
Meanwhile, in the US, viewers will be able to stream Small Axe on Amazon Prime Video.
How can I watch Small Axe at the BFI London Film Festival?
The first film in the anthology series Small Axe – titled ‘Mangrove’ – opened the BFI London Film Festival on Wednesday 7th October 2020.
In the film, Letitia Wright (of Black Panther fame) plays one of the ‘Mangrove Nine’, a group of Black protesters in the 1970s, whose arrest and resulting court battle sparked judicial recognition regarding the Metropolitan Police’s racism.
Steve McQueen said: “I couldn’t be happier that Mangrove will open this year’s BFI London Film Festival. Although the themes are universal, Mangrove is a London story. It may have happened 50 years ago, but it’s as relevant today as it was then.”
‘Mangrove’ will be shown virtually and in various screenings as part of the festival. If you’re not able to attend, don’t worry – the whole series will air on the BBC (in the UK) and Amazon Prime Video (in the US).
What is Small Axe about?
Spanning three decades, beginning with Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech, the five-part anthology series is set in London’s West Indian community and features The Mangrove, a restaurant in Ladbroke Grove which becomes a community space and years later a meeting-point for protestors.
The series title come from a Jamaican proverb, “if you are the big tree, we are the small axe,” which means that relatively marginal or small voices of dissent can successfully challenge more powerful voices.
The first film in the series, Mangrove, tells the story of Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), the owner of Notting Hill’s Caribbean restaurant Mangrove, “a lively community base for locals, intellectuals and activists”. As the BBC puts it, “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.” The episode also stars Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Jack Lowden, Sam Spruell, Gershwyn Eustache, Nathaniel Martello-White, Richie Campbell, Jumayn Hunter, and Gary Beadle.
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,” and it stars Amarah-Jae St Aubyn, Micheal Ward, Shaniqua Okwok, Kedar Williams-Stirling , Ellis George, Alexander James-Blake, and Kadeem Ramsay
Episode three, Education, “is 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, preventing many Black children from having the education they deserve until a group of West Indian women take matters into their own hands. This episode also stars Naomie Ackie.
The next film is titled Alex Wheatle, and it 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 ability to grow his passion for music and DJ’ing. When he is thrown in prison during the Brixton Uprising of 1981, he confronts his past and sees a path to healing.”
The final film in the Small Axe collection is titled Red, White and Blue, and it stars John Boyega alongside Steve Toussaint, Tyrone Huntley, Nathan Vidal and Jaden Oshenye. It tells the true story of Leroy Logan, a young forensic scientist with a yearning to do more than his solitary laboratory work. But “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.”
In a statement, McQueen said: “I felt these stories needed to be shared. I wanted to re-live, re-evaluate and investigate the journeys that my parents and the first generation of West Indians went on to deliver me here today calling myself a Black British person. What’s important about our stories is that they are local but at the same time global. I think audiences will identify with the trials, tribulations and joy of our characters as well as reflecting on the present environment in which we find ourselves.
He continued: “The dynamic nature of the series allows us to confront injustice in the face of adversity hence the proverb Small Axe, ‘if you are the big tree, we are the small axe’ (Bob Marley).”
Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, said: “It is an honour to have Steve McQueen, along with this stellar cast, tell these important and inspiring stories on BBC One. Small Axe will air on BBC One next year, and this powerful drama is not to be missed.”
Small Axe cast
In Red, White and Blue, Detroit and Star Wars‘ John Boyega plays Leroy Logan, while Steve Toussaint (Prince of Persia) and rising stars Tyrone Huntley, Nathan Vidal and Jaden Oshenye feature alongside him.
The acting talent starring in other Small Axe films includes Letitia Wright (Top Boy, Black Mirror), who played Shuri in Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame, Malachi Kirby (Curfew, Black Mirror, Roots), Shaun Parkes (Lost In Space, Hooten & The Lady), Rochenda Sandall (Line Of Duty, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch), Alex Jennings (A Very English Scandal, Victoria) and Jack Lowden (The Long Song, Mary Queen Of Scots).
Is there a trailer for Small Axe?
Yes, the BBC released a trailer in August, giving us our first-look footage:
There’s also a second trailer for Small Axe, which shows violent clashes with police contrasted with joyous displays of group street dancing.