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‘Small Axe’ starring John Boyega on BBC1 and Amazon Prime: The essential guide to Steve McQueen's powerful anthology series

John Boyega plays Metropolitan Police officer Leroy Logan in "Small Axe."
John Boyega plays Metropolitan Police officer Leroy Logan in "Small Axe." (Image credit: BBC)

Small Axe is an eagerly-anticipated anthology series coming to BBC1 in Britain and Amazon Prime internationally sees John Boyega — of Star Wars fame — playing Leroy Logan, a British police officer who wanted to tackle racist attitudes in the Met Police.

Inspired by real events and based on real people, five individual films tell of how Britain’s black community struggled against systemic racism from the 1960s through to the 1980s.

Here’s everything we know so far.

What is 'Small Axe' all about?

Spanning three decades, with Enoch Powell’s infamous "Rivers of Blood" speech in 1968 though to be a rough starting point, the series is set in London’s West Indian community and features The Mangrove, a restaurant in Ladbroke Grove that becomes a community space and in the years to come a meeting-point for protestors.

The show's title come from a Jamaican proverb, “if you are the big tree, we are the small axe,” which means that small voices of dissent can successfully challenge more powerful voices.

Letitia Wright plays leader of the British Black Panther Movement Altheia Jones-LeCointe in Mangrove.

leader of the British Black Panther Movement Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Image credit: BBC)

What happens in the five 'Small Axe' films?

The first film in the series, Mangrove, tells the story of Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), the owner of Notting Hill’s Caribbean restaurant Mangrove.

A BBC synopsis reads: “In a reign of racist terror, 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.” The episode also stars Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Jack Lowden, Sam Spruell, Gershwyn Eustache, Nathaniel Martello-White, Richie Campbell, Jumayn Hunter, and Gary Beadle.

Lovers Rock tells a fictional story of young love at a Blues party in 1980. It’s an “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,” and it stars Amarah-Jae St Aubyn, Micheal Ward, Shaniqua Okwok, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Ellis George, Alexander James-Blake, and Kadeem Ramsay

Education, “is the coming of age story of 12-year-old Kingsley (Kenyah Sandy) with a fascination for astronauts and rockets. When Kingsley is pulled to the Headmaster’s office for being disruptive in class, he discovers he’s being sent to school for those with ‘special needs’. Distracted by working two jobs his parents (Sharlene Whyte, Daniel Francis) are unaware of what was the unofficial segregation policy at play, preventing many Black children from having the education they deserve until a group of West Indian women take matters into their own hands. This episode also stars Naomie Ackie.

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.”

John Boyega stars in the final film in the Small Axe collection, Red, White and Blue. It tells the true story of Leroy Logan, 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. First, Leroy has to face the consequences of his father’s disapproval, never mind the blatant racism he finds in his new role as a despised yet exemplary Constable in the Metropolitan Police Force.” Steve Toussaint, Tyrone Huntley, Nathan Vidal and Jaden Oshenye also star.

Malachi Kirby (left) also stars in Mangrove.

Malachi Kirby (left) also stars in Mangrove (Image credit: BBC)

Who is John Boyega?

Born in South London in March 1992, John came to prominence when he was cast as Moses in 2011 sci-fi comedy film, Attack The Block. In 2015 he became a global star after playing Finn in the Star Wars sequel trilogy films, A Force Awakens, The Last Jedi (2017) and The Rise of Skywalker (2019).

His other credits include Pacific Rim: Uprising, historical film Detroit and a brief role in 24: Live Another Day.

In 2016 he was awarded the BAFTA Rising Star Award and this summer he also made headlines with a passionate speech at London’s Black Lives Matter protests earlier this summer.

Who else stars in 'Small Axe'?

Steve Toussaint (Prince of Persia) and rising stars Tyrone Huntley, Nathan Vidal and Jaden Oshenye feature alongside John Boyega in the final film.

The acting talent starring in other Small Axe films includes Letitia Wright who starred as Shuri in Black Panther and Avengers Endgame, Malachi Kirby (Roots), Shaun Parkes (Lost In Space), Rochenda Sandall (Line Of Duty), Alex Jennings (The Crown) and Jack Lowden (Mary Queen Of Scots).

Rochenda Sandall (centres) stars in Mangrove

Rochenda Sandall (centres) stars in Mangrove (Image credit: BBC)

Who’s directing the series?

Steve McQueen, who became the first black man to win the Best Director for 2013 hit 12 Years A Slave, will be helming all five episodes and is also credited as a writer and producer for the series.

His other film hits have included Hunger (2008) a historical drama about the 1981 IRA hunger strikes, Shame (2011) a drama about a man struggling with sex addiction and Widows (2018) an adaption of the British TV series.

In a statement, McQueen said: “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. The dynamic nature of the series allows us to confront injustice in the face of adversity hence the proverb Small Axe, ‘if you are the big tree, we are the small axe’ (Bob Marley).”

Is there a trailer for 'Small Axe'?

There sure is! Check it out below…

When will 'Small Axe' begin?

The first Small Axe film, Mangrove, will air on Sunday 15th November on BBC1, with the other four films airing on subsequent Sundays, concluding with Red, White and Blue on Sunday 13th December. The films will also be available on the iPlayer.

U.S. viewers will be able to stream the films on Amazon Prime Video.