Almost 2 years ago, in early 2014, Steve McQueen revealed that he was, at the time, working on a drama about the lives of black Britons for the BBC, sharing that the drama would be “epic in scope” and will follow the lives of a group of friends and their families from 1968 to 2014.
“I don’t think there has been a serious drama series in Britain with black people from all walks of life as the main protagonists,” McQueen said, and he wants to do something about that.
He added that the project would be developed over the following year with a writer and group of actors. He said it would be set in London, emphasizing: “This isn’t a black ‘Our Friends in the North'”, referring to the 1996 BBC drama that followed four friends from Newcastle.
A year later, The BBC formally commissioned the “epic” Steve McQueen drama, which will be produced by “Game of Thrones” producer Frank Doelger via his Rainmark Films banner, and former BBC Films executive Tracey Scoffield, with a spring 2016 shoot date eyed – which means we likely won’t see it until 2017.
It’ll be a 6-episode miniseries which McQueen will of course direct, and co-write alongside Debbie Tucker Green – a writer and filmmaker whose name and work have been featured on this blog. Most recently, she directed Idris Elba in what was her feature film directing debut, “Second Coming,” which world premiered at the London Film Festival last fall (read our review of it here).
Skip ahead to today, at the 2015 Edinburgh International Television Festival, to updates on the project revealed. Specifically, according to The Guardian (UK), McQueen’s series will tell the story of a West Indian community in London, across three decades, beginning at Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968.
Enoch Powell was an English conservative right-winger who gave a hard-hitting speech attacking the government’s immigration policy that year. Addressing a Conservative association meeting in Birmingham, Powell said Britain had to be crazy to allow 50,000 immigrants each year into the country. He compared it to “watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.” As a result, there were calls for an immediate reduction in immigration and the implementation of a Conservative policy of “urgent” encouragement of those already in the UK, to return home.
“In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man,” Powell said; “Like the Roman, I seem to see the river Tiber foaming with much blood.” He obviously very much feared what Britain would look like in the decades that would follow (if only he were still alive today to see his worst fears become a reality; although he didn’t die that long ago – 1998).
Bits and pieces of Powell’s 45-minute speech are embedded below.
The Guardian report from the Edingburgh TV festival also says that, at the center of McQueen’s series is a restaurant called the Mangrove, “a place of camaraderie and friendship that becomes a social heart for the community – and, over time, a flashpoint for resistance.”
The project is currently untitled. It’s just one of a handful of upcoming work from Steven McQueen to look forward to. He’s also developing a six-part series for HBO, titled “Codes of Conduct,” which follows a young black man from Queens, played by Devon Terrell, who enters New York’s high society. And there’s the remake of the 1980’s British TV series “Widows,” which follows 3 women who are widowed after a heist by their bank robber husbands goes awry, and who then use notebooks they left behind to conduct the crimes themselves.
It looks like it’ll be a little while before we see the next Steve McQueen big screen project, as he seems focused on TV content right now.
He does have a Paul Robeson biopic on his slate, which he’ll be working on with Harry Belafonte. But I assume that will come after he’s done with both TV series.