After much anticipation, Oscar award-winning director Sir Steve McQueen’s new mini series Small Axe finally debuts on BBC One this weekend.
Focusing on London’s West Indian community, the individual stories span nearly 30 years and highlight events that have shaped the landscape of Black British history.
The anthology consists of five hour-long feature films – Mangrove, Lovers Rock, Red, White And Blue, Alex Wheatle and Education.
Here is everything you need to know.
“The opportunity to tell Black British stories of this nature and present them to the world is unparalleled”
Conceived by McQueen, the series also features co-writing credits from author and playwright Courttia Newland and Alastair Siddons.
Speaking exclusively to HuffPost UK, Newland explained how important a mini series like this was for television.
“The opportunity to tell Black British stories of this nature and present them to the world is unparalleled, and hopefully the beginning of a sea change. From the outset, I knew the importance of this project, but as well as unearthing struggles and pain, we rediscovered jokes, mannerisms, phrases and rituals which meant we also had a lot of fun.
“Our cinematographer Shabier Kirchner says this was ancestral, and I felt it in my bones from the moment we started. They were in the room with us, guiding us every step of the way.”
Speaking on working with McQueen – the director behind such films as 12 Years A Slave and Widows – Newland said: “It was an honour and privilege in the truest sense of the word, something I’ve wanted to do since I saw Western Deep almost 20 years ago.”
Upon the series’ announcement last year, McQueen spoke about his determination to get these stories filmed. “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.”
Speaking later to Esquire magazine he continued: “These stories have shaped the landscape of Britain. That’s how big these stories were. The fire was in me to tell them, and as a film-maker, as an artist, without that fuel called passion, at least for me, there’s no reason to do anything.”
Small Axe boasts an outstanding cast of talent
Some of the UK’s brightest acting talent have taken roles in the series including John Boyega, (24: Live Another Day, Star Wars) Letitia Wright, (Black Panther, Black Mirror), Michael Ward, (Top Boy, Blue Story), Naomi Ackie (The End Of The F**king World) Malachi Kirby, (Roots) and newcomers Frances Lovehall and Kenyah Sanday.
On landing the role of former Metropolitan Police Superintendent Leroy Logan MBE and working with McQueen in Red, White and Blue, Boyaga wrote on Instagram: “Had the joy of teaming up with Steve McQueen for his hotly-anticipated series Small Axe. Here’s a first look! Black British History will be televised.”
A post shared by John Boyega (@johnboyega) on
And Leroy Logan who Boyega portrays in Red, White And Blue posted on Twitter his excitement about his life story being part of the project.
Never in my wildest dreams would I’ve thought my life story would get to the attention of film director Steve McQueen, starred by John Boyega & part of the @bbctvcentre Small Axe series. You couldn’t make this up & I’ve had to pinch myself. #ArtFollowsLifehttps://t.co/Xm9cYh5H7O pic.twitter.com/IHd204zBZm
— Leroy Logan MBE (@LeroyLogan999) August 4, 2020
The first story to air of the five will be Mangrove
Based on the true story about a group of Black British activists dubbed The Mangrove Nine who were tried, then acquitted for inciting a riot at a protest in 1970.
The trial made history by becoming the first judicial acknowledgement of behaviour motivated by racial hatred within London’s Metropolitan Police. The stars of Mangrove include Letitia Wright and Malachi Kirby.
Sunday 15 November at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer
Episode two: Lovers Rock
This fictional tale is an ode to 1970s London’s burgeoning Black British reggae scene and youth culture.
Lovers Rock explores the musical freedom and love that Black Londoners found in house parties when they were unwelcome in white nightclubs.
The film highlights the social unrest that was unfurling around them at that time while celebrating the arrival of the musical genre that is Lovers Rock. Bafta 2020 rising star winner Micheal Ward leads.
Sunday 22 November at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer
Episode three: Red White And Blue
This is the true story of former Metropolitan Police Superintendent Leroy Logan MBE, and his life as a policeman in 80s and 90s London.
When he sees his father assaulted by two policemen Logan 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.
John Boyega takes the lead as Logan and Steve Toussaint also stars.
Sunday 29 November at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer
Episode four: Alex Wheatle
This is the true story of award winning writer Alex Wheatle.
A young Black boy in the care system with no family or love who finally finds a sense of identity and community when he emerges himself in music and DJing in Brixton.
But he is forced to confront his past when he is sent to prison during the 1981 Brixton uprisings and finally sees a path to healing.
Sheyi Cole and Jonathon Jules star in this autobiographical tale.
Sunday 6 December at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer
Episode five: Education
The final instalment in the Small Axe series is a coming of age story that looks at the British education system through the eyes of a 12-year-old Black Londoner.
Education focuses on the unofficial segregation policy that was at play at that time, which prevented many Black children from having the education that they deserved by sending them to school for those with ‘special needs’ until a group of West Indian women take matters into their own hands. Bafta award winner Naomi Ackie and newcomer Kenyah Sandy stars.
Sunday 13 December at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer
The series has been met with huge critical acclaim
Three of the five films in the series, Lovers Rock, Mangrove and Red, White And Blue premiered at the 58th New York Film Festival last September with Lovers Rock opening the festival – a feat that was well received by fans and critics alike.
— Matt Neglia (@NextBestPicture) September 17, 2020
How many times can you say your film is opening New York Film Festival. I AM GOBSMACKED. #stevemcqueen #loversrock #amazon #bbc #kedarwilliamsstirling #michaelward #amarahstaubyn https://t.co/Qbr2koxNNO
— Shaniqua Okwok (@ShaniquaOkwok) August 3, 2020
— Hollywood News (@hollywoodnews) September 19, 2020
Watch the trailer...
Small Axe begins on Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.