Author Zadie Smith’s comedy, set in multiracial northwest Londonm was brought to life a dozen years ago, in a 4-part adaptation of her acclaimed first novel, “White Teeth” – which she wrote at just 24 years old.
Set in Willesden Green, where Smith grew up, “White Teeth” tells the story of 3 families from 1974 to 1992.
“I wanted to write a book about a man who… lives a good life by accident,” Smith said of the novel’s protagonist, professional envelope-folder Archie Jones (played by Phil Davis), whom she compared to Jimmy Stewart.
She pairs Archie with a sidekick who is his opposite in nearly every way. Bengali waiter Samad Iqbal (Om Puri) is intellectual where Archie is clueless, a devout Muslim where Archie is a laid-back atheist, and an adulterer where Archie is an oblivious family man. But they have been best friends since an experience involving a fugitive war criminal during World War II – an incident that comes back to haunt Archie at crucial points in the plot.
The novel is populated with an assortment of interesting characters: Archie and Samad’s headstrong spouses, their children, lapsed Jehovah’s Witness Clara (played by Naomie Harris), her fire-and-brimstone mother, Hortense (Mona Hammond), sharp-tongued Bengali Alsana (Archie Panjabi), and others.
“White Teeth” was initially broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK, in the fall of 2002. US audiences would eventually get to see it when it aired as part of the PBS Masterpiece Theatre anthology in May 2003. It performed well in the ratings, drawing millions of eyeballs, as well as critical acclaim, including then newcomer Naomie Harries, whose performance was praised.
It was also nominated for, and won a few awards after its broadcast run.
I just happened upon the entire mini-series on Hulu today; so if you’ve never seen it, and would like to, watch all 4 parts embedded below.
I should mention that, a film adaptation of another Zadie Smith novel, “On Beauty,” is development, with Kasi Lemmons attached to write and direct. While we wait for that to materialize, check out “White Teeth” below: