Small Axe release date, plots for each film, cast and trailer

Small Axe starring John Boyega
(Image credit: BBC/McQueen Limited/Will Robson-Scott)

Small Axe features Star Wars actor John Boyega

Small Axe is a collection of films by award-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen which each tell a story involving London’s West Indian community. The five films are Mangrove, Lovers Rock, Red, White and Blue, Alex Wheatle and Education.

Set from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, the BBC says the films are a “celebration of Black joy, beauty, love, friendship, family, music and even food”.

Steve McQueen explains: “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.

“What’s important about our stories is that they are local but at the same time global. I think audiences will identify with the trials, tribulations and joy of our characters as well as reflecting on the present environment in which we find ourselves."

Here’s the plot for each of the five Small Axe films and when they’re on

Mangrove - release date Sunday 15th November at 9pm

Shaun Parkes as Frank in Mangrove

Shaun Parkes as Frank

Based on a true story, the drama centres on Frank Crichlow (played by Shaun Parkes), the owner of Notting Hill’s Caribbean restaurant Mangrove.

Despite protesting peacefully against constant police raids, Frank is arrested along with the leader of the British Black Panther Movement Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright) and seven other men and women. They’re wrongfully charged with incitement to riot and a highly publicised trial begins...

Lovers Rock - release date Sunday 22nd November

Lovers Rock

Lovers Rock is the second film

Lovers Rock is a fictional story. The BBC says it’s “the story of young love at a Blues party in 1980”. Adding that it’s “an ode to the romantic reggae genre, 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”.

The cast includes Kedar Williams-Stirling, who Sex Education fans will know as Jackson.

Red, White and Blue - release date Sunday 29th November

Red, White and Blue starring John Boyega

John Boyega as Leroy

This drama tells the true story of Leroy Logan (Star Wars actor John Boyega), a young Constable in the Metropolitan Police Force. When his father is assaulted by two policemen, Leroy revisits his childhood dream of being in the police and has a naive hope he can change things. When he joins, though, he faces the disapproval of his father and blatant racism.

Alex Wheatle - Sunday 6th December

Alex Wheatle behinds the scenes shot from Small Axe

Behind the scenes shot showing director Steve McQueen with Alex Wheatle actor Sheyi Cole

This film tells the true story of award-winning writer Alex Wheatle (played by Sheyi Cole). The BBC says Alex “spent his childhood mostly in a mostly white institutional care home with no love or family”. But he finds a sense of community for the time time in Brixton as he also develops a passion for music. He confronts his past when he is chucked in prison during the Brixton Uprising of 1981.

Education - Sunday 13th December

It follows 12-year-old Kingsley (Kenyah Sandy), who has a love of all things space. But his life change when he’s told by the headmaster that he’s disruptive and is being sent to a school for those with “special needs”. However, a group of West Indian women then help his parents challenge what was the unofficial segregation policy at play stopping many Black children from having the education they deserve.

Is there a trailer for Small Axe?

There certainly is...


Small Axe starts with Mangrove on Sunday 15th November at 9pm (see our TV Guide for more shows to watch).

David Hollingsworth

David is the What To Watch Editor and has over 20 years of experience in television journalism. He is currently writing about the latest television and film news for What To Watch.

Before working for What To Watch, David spent many years working for TV Times magazine, interviewing some of television's most famous stars including Hollywood actor Kiefer Sutherland, singer Lionel Richie and wildlife legend Sir David Attenborough. 

David started out as a writer for TV Times before becoming the title's deputy features editor and then features editor. During his time on TV Times, David also helped run the annual TV Times Awards. David is a huge Death in Paradise fan, although he's still failed to solve a case before the show's detective! He also loves James Bond and controversially thinks that Timothy Dalton was an excellent 007.

Other than watching and writing about telly, David loves playing cricket, going to the cinema, trying to improve his tennis and chasing about after his kids!