Small Axe

Rating 9.1
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 5 x 90 mins

Small Axe is a ground-breaking anthology of five two-hour-long films directed by Steve McQueen. Four of these will tell a true story in British history, whilst one is invented, each being broadcast on BBC over the next four Sundays.

The first, Mangrove, depicts the trial of the ‘Mangrove Nine’ who were accused of incitement to riot, and who were acquitted after the case acknowledged the racial hatred that existed in London’s Met Police. The film begins in Notting Hill in the 1960s – long before Hugh Grant’s floppy haired rom-com turned it into a hot spot for £8 flat whites and £8 million white flats – where Frank Crichlow opens a Caribbean restaurant called The Mangrove. The restaurant soon became a hot-spot for West London’s immigrant communities, who had grown up in the area after the Windrush movement.

Whilst they would get together to enjoy some good grub and a natter – Bob Marley ate there when visiting – it also became a meeting spot for activists such as Altheia Jones-LeCointe and Darcus Howe. In 1960s Britain, this was more than enough reason for police to raid the restaurant. Twelve raids occurred before 150 protestors marched to a local police station, sparking the landmark trial. The case is so significant in British history that it’s gob-smacking it hasn’t been dramatized before. That has now been compellingly corrected by Academy Award winner McQueen, who creates an intense and gripping watch. And despite the heavy topic, the film remains a glorious celebration of British Caribbean culture.

The Guardian’s Ellen E Jones gave the film five stars, and says, “McQueen ably shoulders the burden of representation, tells the untold stories and offers framed portraits of Caribbean heroes on The Mangrove’s walls, as a reminder of how much more there is where this came from.” In The Times Carol Midgely says she was “riveted not just by the legal argument…but also by the drama and suspense,” noting “It is not often the BBC News at Ten gets kicked out of its slot. Right decision.” Anita Singh in The Telegraph says Small Axe: Mangrove is both “a gripping courtroom drama and a beautifully directed period piece.”

First shown November 2020. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here:

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