“Small Island” is Andrea Levy’s uplifting story of Jamaican immigrants living in war-ravaged London in the early to mid-20th century. It’s a telepic we highlighted on this blog in 2009, before it was to make its premiere in the UK, as well as here in the USA, airing in two parts on PBS’s MASTERPIECE Classic series.
This was a few years before both Naomie Harris and David Oyelowo took on roles that made them widely-familiar to USA audiences. Also, others you’d recognize include Nikki Amuka-Bird (years before she was cast to give Idris Elba trouble in “Luther”) and Ashley Walters, the British rapper, actor producer who starred in the critically-acclaimed Channel 4 (UK) dramatic series “Top Boy” (among other roles) – a series that’s available on various home video platforms here in the USA.
Set in a time when signs that read “‘No Irish, no coloureds, no dogs” were routinely put up by landlords and in ads for rooms to rent, “Small Island” follows the interlocking lives of the young British Queenie (played by Ruth Wilson who you’ll remember as Alice in “Luther”), her Jamaican tenant, Gilbert (Oyelowo), his wife Hortense (Harris), and Queenie’s husband Bernard (played by Benedict Cumberbatch – another familiar name, years before he took on Captain Kirk and company in the last Star Trek movie, or played a slave master in “12 Years a Slave”).
The mini-series was based on a novel of the same title by Andrea Levy. It was the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction (2004), the Whitbread Novel Award (2004), the Orange Best of the Best (2005), and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize (2005). It offers insight into the oft ignored conditions for blacks arriving in the UK from across the British Empire, just after the Second Wold War.
If you’ve never watched the 2-part film, you’re in luck, because it’s available on Hulu in full (all 3 hours of it). Both parts are embedded below (I thought it would be on Netflix, but, unfortunately, it’s not available for streaming):