JWR Articles: Television - Small Axe - Anthology of five films from Steve McQueen (Director: Steve McQueen) - February 16, 2021

Small Axe - Anthology of five films from Steve McQueen

4.5 4.5

A quintet of stories that deserve a wide audience

Steve McQueen digs deep into the Black experience in the U.K.

2020, 125 minutes
Four stars

“He’s got his place”

In this 1968 portrait of the Notting Hill 9 (so at one with The Trial of the Chicago 7cross-reference below), it is the plight of West Indian Blacks in Notting Hill (London) that fuels the fire of racist constables (and often their betters) until their merciless raids end up in the Old Bailey.

As an unapologetically white man (born that way in 1952), I am still HUGELY embarrassed at my predecessors who have judged people by colour and not by intellect. (Thank goodness that doesn’t happen anymore…)

The cast and crew do their best to lay out the stories of eking out a living, police persecution and an unrepentant judge, only to have a short-lived justice before their next calamity/insult occurs.

Trump would be cheering the racist judge on all the way to the Supreme Court. JWR

Lovers Rock
2020, 70 minutes
Three and one half stars

Invitation to the Dance

An after-hours party deftly sets the stage for Black love: new, possibly rekindled and old. Enjoy the music and try to imagine your affairs—the good, the bad and ugly—coming to the big screen. JWR

Red, White and Blue
2020, 81 minutes
Four stars

“That’s Constable Judas”

Just as Trump’s second impeachment trial is about to begin, it is instructive and enlightening to take in this bio-docudrama about a young Jamaican man who is confronted with his father’s brutal beating for no real reason other than skin colour at the uncaring hands of London’s “famed” Bobbies of the ‘80s.

In a, at times, pathetic case of “don’t get made, get even,” Leroy Logan (a fine performance from John Boyega) opts to move away from the solitary confines of forensic scientist onto the streets of his neighbourhood as a beat constable. Dad Kenneth (Steve Toussaint is all grit and anger with just a few moments of silent reconciliation as required), is twice determined to have his day in court to speak truth to outrageous power, just as is happening in Washington D.C.

McQueen (this time along with screenwriter Courttia Newland), are—at times—too “on the nose” in depicting the outrages on both sides of the divide, along with the subplot of an Urdu-speaking fellow cop being lost in a sea of white supremacism.

Still, (literally in some cases), the purposely long, reflective looks from father and son as they wordlessly contemplate their place in the world, is most artfully reinforced by cinematographer Shabrier Kirchner’s deft mirror images and a couple of lighting captures that—in the manner of Franco Zeffirelli, cross-reference below—show the invisible prisons that surround so many Black people in a white man’s universe.

Much food for thought, even as the notion that “we should scorch the earth and start over”, makes more and more sense in the 21st century. JWR

Alex Wheatle
2020, 66 minutes
Four stars

Better write than wrong

Sheri Cole nails the role of Alex. Any others wondering about the power of the pen over the sword will learn a lot. JWR

2020, 63 minutes
Four and one half stars

Astronaut in peril

McQueen finishes up this captivating series with a stinging indictment (er, hello there, former liar-in-chief Trump), of the British “education” system.

Kenyah Sandy provides a wise-beyond-his years performance as 12-year-old Kingsley, who, because of his inability to read, is summarily “demoted” to a special school where the apparent dregs of society are taught nothing and have to listen to poorly performed songs (e.g., “The House of the Rising Sun”), by their derelict masters.

Systemic racism has seldom been laid so bare. We all must hope that these “incidents” are far behind, but what is the expression, “If we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it?”. Click on CNN now—not a pretty sight. JWR

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Director - Steve McQueen
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