Letitia Wright and John Boyega head an all-star British cast in Steve McQueen’s upcoming anthology series, “Small Axe,” one of the most eagerly anticipated dramas coming out of Britain, where it will air on the BBC. Amazon has already snagged the show for the U.S.
The series from the Oscar-winning director of “12 Years a Slave” and “Widows” has been years in the making. It is set in London’s West Indian community, starting in the late 1960s and running until the early ’80s.
Production is now underway on location in London. Boyega (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) and Wright (“Black Panther”) join a cast that also includes Malachi Kirby (“Black Mirror”), Shaun Parkes (“Lost in Space”), Rochenda Sandall (“Line of Duty”), Alex Jennings (“Victoria”) and Jack Lowden (“Mary Queen of Scots”).
The series will comprise six parts and tell five different stories. Its title is derived from a Jamaican proverb with resonance throughout the Caribbean: “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.” It is also the title of a Bob Marley song from his 1973 album “Catch a Fire.” McQueen conceived the anthology’s stories with Alastair Siddons and Courttia Newland. Novelist Alex Wheatle is a writing consultant.
“I felt these stories needed to be shared,” said McQueen, who will also exec produce. “I wanted to relive, reevaluate 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,” McQueen added. “The dynamic nature of the series allows us to confront injustice in the face of adversity.”
Turbine Studios is producing the series with Lammas Park. Anita Overland is also producing, as is Mike Elliot for EMU Films. Tracey Scoffield and David Tanner will exec produce for Turbine. “We’ve been working with Steve McQueen and the BBC for over five years developing this project, and the privilege continues now we are in production, putting together the best cast and crew to do justice to these incredible stories and the real people behind them,” Scoffield said.
The show was commissioned by Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, and the executive producer for the BBC is Lucy Richer. The series will bow on flagship channel BBC One next year. “It is an honor to have Steve McQueen, along with this stellar cast, tell these important and inspiring stories,” Piers Wenger, the pubcaster’s drama boss, said.
Amazon revealed that it had boarded the series during a British parliamentary hearing Tuesday. The streamer has it for the U.S. BBC Studios is handling distribution and lining up other international deals for the show.