I’m sure the average person is totally confused by Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” series on Amazon Prime. It consists of five films made for British television. So it was sold to the US the same way. If only the first film, “Mangrove,” had been released as a standalone to theaters for the Oscars, it would have cleaned up.
The whole thing is a marketing nightmare. “Mangrove” could have gone to theaters, then released with the others for a mini series event. Instead, Amazon Prime is sending it all the Emmy Awards which is disappointing and kind of ridiculous. It minimizes the impact of “Mangrove,” which is sort of like a British counterpart to the current Netflix film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which is headed to the Oscars.
All five films in the “Small Axe” series address life in Britain for transplanted West Indians in the 1960s. So you love “The Crown,” right? I do. But watching that series you’d never know there were people of color in the UK, or London, while the royal family was wringing its hands at Buckingham Palace. What a juxtaposition! McQueen is giving us the history of the people, just as August Wilson did with his play cycle. Extraordinary.
The Mangrove was a restaurant in Notting Hill (later the posh setting of the Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts movie, talk about gentrification). It was to a mecca in 1968 for West Indians, only the British police acted toward the owner, Frank Crichlow, and his community as if they were Russian soldiers on an endless pogrom. They continually broke down the doors, smashed the place up, intimidated the patrons. It was pure racism.
Crichlow and co. finally responded by staging a march, a protest, that ended in arrests and an eleven week trial. McQueen delivers us into this West Indian world of black owned businesses struggling to survive against the racism of the Notting Hill neighborhood around them and the local police with aplomb.
If this had been a movie released on its own, we’d have been talking about the three principal actors — Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, and Malachi Kirby, and Alex Jennings — the judge here, abdicated Uncle Dickie on “The Crown — are exceptional.
Steve McQueen– if you look at the films in the “Small Axe” series, he’s a director with an exquisite eye and a sense of purpose. Episode 3 in the series, “Red, White, and Blue” — stars John Boyega and Steve Toussaint as son and father challenging the institutional racism of the police. At 80 minutes, it’s very much a full length film, far superior than anything on television although I see why this one should go for Emmy Awards and win. Boyega and Toussaint, the whole cast, are as good as it gets.
It’s confusing but “Small Axe” — five films — are on Amazon Prime. You could do worse than watch the series this weekend.