Letitia Wright (Black Panther) and John Boyega (Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi) have joined the cast of Steve McQueen’s (Widows, 12 Years a Slave) TV series Small Axe. The London-set 1970s anthology series began shooting on June 23 for BBC One and Turbine Studios. The show will stream on Amazon in the U.S.
The series is executive produced by Tracey Scoffield and David Tanner for Turbine Studios and Steve McQueen for Lammas Park. Shooting began on location in London on June 24.
Joining the cast are Evening Standard Theatre Awards’ Outstanding Newcomer Malachi Kirby (Curfew, Black Mirror, Roots), Shaun Parkes (Lost In Space, Hooten & The Lady), Rochenda Sandall (Line Of Duty, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch), Alex Jennings (A Very English Scandal, Victoria) and Jack Lowden (The Long Song, Mary Queen of Scots).
Small Axe is an anthology of hour-long stories conceived and written by Steve McQueen with Alastair Siddons and Courttia Newland. Alex Wheatle is a writing consultant to the series.
The six part, one-hour films tell five stories, with the first told across two episodes, and are set within London’s West Indian community from the late 1960s to the early 80s.
The title Small Axe is derived from a Jamaican proverb which has resonance throughout the Caribbean, “if you are the big tree, we are the small axe”. Small Axe is also the title of a Bob Marley song from his 1973 album Catch A Fire. It means that relatively marginal or small voices of dissent can successfully challenge more powerful voices.
Mike Elliot is producing for EMU Films with Turbine Studios and Anita Overland. Associate producers are Charlotte Andrews for Turbine Studios, Susan Dolan for Lammas Park and Helen Bart.
The drama has been commissioned by Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content, and the executive producer for the BBC is Lucy Richer, Senior Commissioning Editor for Drama. Amazon has licensed the show for the US. BBC Studios is handling worldwide sales.
Steve McQueen says: “I felt these stories needed to be shared. I wanted to re-live, re-evaluate 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. The dynamic nature of the series allows us to confront injustice in the face of adversity hence the proverb Small Axe, ‘if you are the big tree, we are the small axe’ (Bob Marley).”
Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, says: “It is an honour to have Steve McQueen, along with this stellar cast, tell these important and inspiring stories on BBC One. Small Axe will air on BBC One next year, and this powerful drama is not to be missed.”
Tracey Scoffield, Turbine Studios Executive Producer, says: “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.”
John Boyega is best known for his role as Finn in the latest feature films in the Star Wars franchise. Letitia Wright most recently starred in the box office and awards season sensation Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.
This is newly formed Turbine Studios’ first project out of the gate. The company, set up last year by producers Scoffield and Tanner alongside Andrew Eaton (The Crown, The Trip), and Justin Thomson (The Fall, Death Comes To Pemberley), is building an impressive slate of TV and film projects.