Small Axe

The continuing fight for equality is the subject of Steve McQueen's new series for the BBC, Small Axe. Peter Gray reports.

Image Credit: BBC/McQueen Limited/Will Robson-Scott
-London's Best Events-

The latest project from Oscar-winning writer and director Steve McQueen, Small Axe tells the story of the West Indian community’s struggle for equality in post war Britain. Made up of five stand alone TV movies, the series traces the history of this momentous struggle from the late sixties right up to the mid eighties., beginning with Enoch Powell’s notorious ‘Rivers Of Blood’ speech in 1968.

The title of the show is taken from the well known Jamaican proverb: “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe”, which means that even relatively small or marginalised voices can challenge more powerful voices. In the new BBC series, that small axe is wielded by a series of victimised individuals who decide to stand up for what they believe.

“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” says the BBC website about the series.

Director Steve McQueen, who won an Oscar for his adaptation of Seven Years A Slave in 2015, has revealed that he had been planning Small Axe for the last eleven years. He said: “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.”

The Senior Drama Commissioner and Executive Producer for the BBC, Lucy Richer, meanwhile, was clearly delighted to have worked with the Oscar winning director on the new series. “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” she said.

Small Axe features a host of stars including such big names as John Boyega, Letitia Wright, Michael Ward and Line of Duty actress Rochenda Sandall. 

McQueen’s drama has already achieved one notable success. Two of the films in the series (Mangrove and Lovers Rock) have been selected to appear in next year’s Cannes Film Festival. 

Small Axe begins on the 15th of November 2020 on BBC1. More information about the series can be found here.

For information on other great TV shows to watch this winter, please click here.


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-London's Best Events-
What: new drama
When: 15 Nov 2020
Where: BBC1
Website: Small Axe