peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2022 11 19 SmallAxe

Small Axe (2020)

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Steve McQueen's TV miniseries was on the pile for a long time. Five episodes, some of which get on to feature length. Over many nights. The subject is the West Indian community in London from the 1960s to the 1980s, which was (specifically) topical at the time due to the Windrush scandal (so soon buried under countless other scandals and much political buffoonery). As you'd expect the cinematography is always good and often excellent. The huge cast is deployed well. At times it seems to be almost entirely about the music.

Several of the episodes focus on police brutality, which as we know in Australia, is approximately invariant and generic (sadly). The first instalment Mangrove is depressing but saved by its fabulous actors. I didn't get where he was going with the second, Lovers Rock — always expecting something to despoil what seemed to be an enjoyable party — but once I realised it was the vibe of the thing, the toeing of several dangerous lines but not crossing any fatal ones, it came away as one of the best. Similarly the final, Education, while clunky in its polemics, hit the right visual and moral notes. McQueen should direct a Cosmos remake!

Widely reviewed. Gary Younge at the New York Review of Books provides much valuable context. Jeannette Catsoulis at length.