#9 Small Axe: BBC/Amazon Prime – Bleeding Cool TV Top 10 of 2020

Welcome back to Bleeding Cool TV's Top 10 of 2020- a look at the year in broadcast, cable, streaming, and online television with our focus on the best and brightest in what continues to be an ever-growing pool of quality content. This year, it's important for us to recognize just how much Television stepped up in the face of a global pandemic as other mediums left their audiences to go it alone. Not Television. When others said, "Sorry, but we'll see you when the coast is clear," Television stepped up to make our lockdown times a little more sane- a bit more bearable. From live-streaming table reads to tweet-a-longs with shows' best and brightest offering fans new content to productions going into massive "bubble modes" to knock out as much content as possible. In 2020, Television proved once again what it's always been. A reflection of what we've been, who we are, and who we have the potential to be in the toughest of times. So with that in mind, our year-end countdown continues with BBC One and Amazon Prime Video's Small Axe.

Small Axe from BBC and Amazon Prime (Image: Amazon screencap)
Small Axe from BBC and Amazon Prime (Image: Amazon screencap)

Created and directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Widows), the award-winning, critically-acclaimed British anthology film Small Axe tells five distinct, powerful, and thought-provoking stories highlighting what life was like for West Indian immigrants in London during the '60s and '70s. While the films "Mangrove," "Lovers Rock," "Red, White and Blue," "Alex Wheatle," and "Education" tell their own respective tales, the work of writers McQueen, Alastair Siddons, Courttia Newland, and Alastair Siddons never strayed from keeping the thematic focus front and center. With a title based on the African proverb, "If you are the big tree, we are the small axe," the original films that make up Small Axe never fell into the trap of becoming too much of a documentary or a history lesson. Instead, the anthology takes the struggles of the West Indian community and makes them the viewers' struggles- exposing them to history as well as to the world around them that may never truly see.

Through the eyes of a stellar collective cast that includes Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Micheal Ward, Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Kenyah Sandy, Sheyi Cole, John Boyega, and many others, Small Axe highlights society's unsung heroes- people who fight against rampant racism and discrimination while trying to carve out a sense of identity and community. the series succeeds in large part because it shows us that while times may change, the same struggles seem to survive- but little by little, by "small axes" who've come before, who fight the hard fight now, and who will carry the fight into the future, that "big tree" moves. And as we've seen from the younger generation this year who've taken to the streets and social media, the number of "small axes" continues to grow.

Mangrove centers on Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), the owner of Notting Hill's Caribbean restaurant, Mangrove, a lively community base for locals, intellectuals and activists. 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 publicized trial ensues, leading to hard-fought win for those fighting against discrimination. Letitia Wright (Black Panther), Shaun Parkes (Lost in Space), and Malachi Kirby (Curfew) star alongside Rochenda Sandall (Line of Duty), Jack Lowden (The Long Song), Sam Spruell (Snow White and the Huntsmen), Gershwyn Eustache (The Gentleman), Nathaniel Martello-White (Collateral), Richie Campbell (Liar), Jumayn Hunter (Les Miserables), and Gary Beadle (Summer of Rockets). Mangrove was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen.

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 called "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. Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn makes her screen debut opposite the BAFTAs 2020 Rising Star award recipient Micheal Ward (Top Boy). Shaniqua Okwok (Boys), Kedar Williams-Stirling (Sex Education), Ellis George (Dr Who), Alexander James-Blake (Top Boy), and Kadeem Ramsay (Blue Story) also star, as well as Francis Lovehall and Daniel Francis-Swaby who make their screen debuts. Lovers Rock was co-written by Courttia Newland and Steve McQueen.

Education is the coming of age story of 12-year-old Kingsley (Kenyah Sandy), who has a fascination with astronauts and rockets. When Kingsley is pulled to the headmaster's office for being disruptive in class, he discovers he's being sent to a school for those with "special needs." Distracted by working two jobs, his parents (Sharlene Smith, Daniel Francis) are unaware of the unofficial segregation policy at play, preventing many Black children from receiving the education they deserve, until a group of West Indian women take matters into their own hands. Tamara Lawrance (The Long Song) also stars with Naomi Ackie (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker). Education was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen.

Alex Wheatle 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. Sheyi Cole stars opposite Jonathan Jules, with Robbie Gee (Snatch), Elliot Edusah (1917), Cecilia Noble (Black Mirror) and Johann Myers (The Lost City of Z). Alex Wheatle was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen.

Red, White and Blue tells the true story of Leroy Logan (John Boyega), a young forensic scientist with a yearning to do more than his solitary laboratory work. 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. Leroy must face the consequences of his father's disapproval, and the blatant racism he finds in his new role as a despised yet exemplary constable in the Metropolitan Police Force. John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Steve Toussaint (Prince of Persia) star with talented newcomers Tyrone Huntley, Nathan Vidal and Jaden Oshenye. Red, White and Blue was co-written by Courttia Newland and Steve McQueen.

About Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.

twitter   instagram   envelope