BBC FILM REVIEWS: SMALL AXE ANTHOLOGY (2020)

BBC FILM REVIEWS: ‘SMALL AXE’ ANTHOLOGY (2020)

Director by: Steve McQueen

Producers by: Anita Overland, Michael Elliot

Writers: Steve McQueen, Courtia Newland, Alastair Siddons

Composer: Mica Levi

Cinematographers: Shabier Kirchner

Original Network: BBC and available on Amazon Prime.

*** CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS ***



Small Axe could also be described in the vein of ‘Small Acts’. Dramatized and rich slices-of-life that reflect significant historical figures and events from black culture in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  MANGROVE (2020) was the first in a set of five films devised, written and directed by Steve McQueen. It premiered at the London Film Festival in 2020, before being released on the BBC television network. I reviewed the film MANGROVE (2020) here. Such was its power, the searing drama would make my list of favourite films of 2020.

Ultra-talented McQueen was not satisfied with one amazing work. He, his incredible cast and production team also delivered four more high quality dramas called LOVERS ROCK (2020), RED WHITE & BLUE (2020), ALEX WHEATLE (2020) and EDUCATION (2020). I had the privilege of viewing these films via the BBC over the New Year period and provide short reviews here.


LOVERS ROCK (2020)

Main Cast: Micheal Ward, Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Shaniqua Okwok, Ellis George, etc.

As well as alluding to the main love story within the narrative, Lovers Rock also makes specific reference to a style of reggae music with a romantic sound and content. Set over one night during a London-based birthday party, the film opens with the setting up of a sound system, making of food and preparation of the large house. While mostly an ensemble piece, the story narrows its focus on prospective lovers, Franklyn and Martha, who fall for each other amidst the thumping bass and hearty vocals of the music. Surely, Lovers Rock is a testament to the power of harmony and community and love. There are brief moments of drama to spike the party mood, but ultimately this is about the joy of being alive and drunk on song and romance. Lastly, it’s arguably as close to feelgood as McQueen’s intense filmmaking style gets in this amazing anthology.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


LOVERS ROCK (2020)

RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2020)

Main Cast: John Boyega, Steve Toussaint, Neil Maskell, Joy Richardson, etc.

As well as evoking the socio-political landscape of the era so well, the costumes, hair, make-up and location work feel so authentic in all of the Small Axe films. Such authenticity serves the stories well, as does the virtually perfect casting too. Fresh from his energetic portrayals of Finn in the Star Wars trilogy, John Boyega’s performance as Leroy Logan in Red, White and Blue (2020), brings his character into conflict with a whole different kind of dark side. Logan was one of the first prominent black police officers in the Metropolitan police. He subsequently founded the Black Police Association and attempt to reform the police from within. No two ways around it, based on the early part of his police career, Logan is represented as a trailblazing hero. He is intelligent and tough and ready to face up to the barbaric language and violence from both white police officers and members of the black community who saw him as a traitor. Boyega is spellbinding as Logan, navigating his way up the ranks facing rancour and rejection from within the police and his own father too, who was understandably unhappy at Leroy’s controversial choice of career.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


RED, WHITE & BLUE (2020)

ALEX WHEATLE (2020)

Main Cast: Sheyi Cole, Robbie Gee, Johann Myers, Johnathan Jules, etc.

What Steve McQueen deserves praise for with Small Axe, among many other things, is bringing to the fore individuals one may not have heard of, or reminding us of important events from within recent British history. In Alex Wheatle (2020), McQueen weaves the early years of now famous author, Alex Wheatle, with circumstances relating to the Brixton riots and the New Cross fire tragedy of 1981. The latter took the lives of fourteen young black people and fuelled much anger at the time in regard to racist attacks on the black community. Alex himself was brought up in care and grows up an angry young man. He finds solace in music and expressing lyrics in a political and combative style. We first meet him in a prison cell sharing with Rastafarian, Simeon (Robbie Gee). The fractious scenes between the two, with both Gee and Sheyi Cole giving fine performances, are full of anger and humour. Far from being a comedy, there remains both witty banter and pathos fizzing around this profile of Wheatle’s formative years. This fine profile finds a young rebel discovering his voice and identity amidst the urban decay, racism and police brutality of the mean streets of London.

Mark: 10 out of 11


ALEX WHEATLE (2020)

EDUCATION (2020)

Main Cast: Kenyah Shandy, Sharlene White, Josette Simon, Tamara Lawrence, Daniel Francis, etc.

Having addressed social and cultural issues relating to civil liberties, law, music, work and identity, Steve McQueen focussed specifically on educational themes within the black community in the aptly named, Education (2020). The highest praise I can give Education (2020) and all the films in the Small Axe anthology is that I felt genuine emotion for all of the characters and the situations they were in. They may not have been perfect and had their flaws, but ultimately all five of these narratives made me feel and care about the characters. Because they were up against an unfair system which demanded to be challenged and changed to stop the systematic prejudice of the time. Education (2020) feels extremely personal to Steve McQueen as one senses the lead character, twelve-year-old Kingsley Smith (Kenyah Sandy) experiences much of the grief he may have when younger. Considered disruptive at the local Comprehensive, Kingsley is dumped into a “Special School” where he becomes lost and ill-educated. One absurd scene simply shows a teacher playing House of the Rising Sun as part of a lesson. Kingsley’s formidable mother, with help from political forces within the black community, strive to right these educational wrongs in a powerful and moving final chapter to the Small Axe anthology.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: MANK (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: MANK (2020)

Directed by: David Fincher

Produced by: Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth, Douglas Urbanski

Screenplay by: Jack Fincher

Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Charles Dance, etc.

Music by: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



“A movie in production is the greatest train set a boy could ever have.”Orson Welles


I was never a fan of train sets as a child or adult. Nor those racing car circuit kits like Scalextric. They were not for me and I always got the feeling that the person playing with them was having much more fun than any spectator in the room. I had that similar feeling of exclusion and while watching David Fincher’s latest film, MANK (2020). Fincher of course is one of the leading film directors of a generation, combining exquisite technical brilliance with a formidable eye for genre storytelling. Indeed, films he directed such as: SEVEN (1995), FIGHT CLUB (1999), ZODIAC (2007) and the arguably under-rated, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008), are all masterclasses in filmmaking technique and genre narratives. Fincher has also made other excellent films too and also helped create the superlative crime series on Netflix, MINDHUNTER.

Thus, with such a directorial power at the helm it is mildly surprising that Fincher has chosen, as his latest film opus, to favour the trials and tribulations of a famous Hollywood screenwriter in Herman J. Mankiewicz. Yet, this is somewhat of a personal project for Fincher as his father, Jack Fincher, wrote the screenplay prior to his passing in 2003. Mankiewicz or ‘Mank’, as he was commonly known, is portrayed by the never-less-than-brilliant, Gary Oldman. His Mank is a wise-cracking, gambling and barely functioning alcoholic, who so happens to be one of the best screenwriters and script doctors in 1940’s Hollywood. Laid up following a car crash, Mank is consigned to a bed for the majority of the present tense of the film. There he is bullied to write CITIZEN KANE (1941), by theatrical wunderkind, Orson Welles, while also ordered to remain sober.



If you have never seen, CITIZEN KANE (1941), or know little of the Hollywood period of the time, then you are most likely to be lost with MANK (2020). CITIZEN KANE (1941) is rightly considered one of finest films of all time and there have been a number of films made about its creation. Here though the story concentrates on the plight of the writer and how Mank came to be influenced by his relationships with William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). Some of the best scenes of the film are Mank’s visits to Hearst Castle and the opulent dinner parties which take place. Mank himself is seen as a witty addendum to proceedings, but always the sneered upon drunken outsider, good for a biting quip and an inebriated jest. Allied to this there are an abundance of characters from the studio system featured, notably Louis B. Mayer, Irvin Thalberg and David O. Selznick. The scene where an drunken Mank bitterly lets rip his ire at Hearst and his cronies is a memorable work of acting from Oldman and contains some fantastic dialogue too.

Overall, the drama rarely gets as good as this and I hardly ever cared about many of the characters, including Mankiewicz himself. The script felt broken-backed, switching from the belligerent and bed-ridden Mank to the flashbacks portraying his Hollywood experiences. I must say though, that the use of screenwriting headers to delineate the place and year of a scene is inspired. The political subplot also, while important to Mankiewicz’s motivation behind his writing choices, did not quite work for me either. Finally, as we would come to expect from a visual genius such as David Fincher, the film’s style is artistry of the highest order. The black-and-white cinematography and stunning production design of MANK (2020) is absolutely incredible to behold. As such, one won’t witness a more beautiful looking train set on a TV or cinema screen all year.

MARK: 8 out of 11



THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS: 12 FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2020!

12 FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2020!

It was indeed an extremely strange year for cinema, for sad and obvious reasons. The global pandemic wreaked havoc with people’s lives and the culture was hit massively due to arts and crafts being locked down. Cinema’s loss meant streaming giants such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney +, rose even more so in power, with many films being premiered in the homes rather than on the big screen. Many big releases have been put on hold too, so my list of favourite films is a mix of those I saw at the cinema and at home.

For comparison: here are my FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2019!

AD ASTRA (2019)
AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
CAPERNAUM (2018)
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019)
THE FAREWELL (2019)
THE IRISHMAN (2019)
JOJO RABBIT (2019)
JOKER (2019)
KNIVES OUT (2019)
MARRIAGE STORY (2019)
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)
US (2019)



In respect of 2020’s choice, some releases may have overlapped with 2019, but this is a list of all the films I watched and loved last year. They may not be the best necessarily, but they are the ones that really grabbed my imagination and intellect and humour. There may be some I haven’t seen as I currently do not have Disney + or Apple TV. Oh well, so it goes.

Almost making the list are the following highly entertaining films: The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019), A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019), The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019), Tell Me Who I Am (2019), His House (2020), The Nightingale (2019), The Platform (2020), The Gentlemen (2019) and Diego Maradona (2019).

Anyway, here are my favourite twelve films of 2020 in alphabetical order. If I have missed any movies I MUST see – please comment below.


1917 (2019)

“… the cinematic marvel that is, 1917 (2019), overcomes its narrative and thematic familiarity with an amazing technical achievement in both form and style.”


DARK WATERS (2019)

“…surprising to see the film was directed by arthouse auteur, Todd Haynes. Nonetheless, it is not about making poetic cinema, but rather presenting a powerful environmental message that highlights the murderous avarice of DuPont.”


DA 5 BLOODS (2020)

“… with Da 5 Bloods (2020), Spike Lee has delivered another bravura mix of genre and socio-political filmmaking which stares into the dark heart of humanity and finds greed, war, death, and brotherhood.”


I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)

“…given Kaufman’s predilection for characters on the edge of nervous, depressive and existential breakdowns, some may find this film’s journey tough to complete. But I loved the invention and constant ideas on show throughout.”



THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

“…The Invisible Man (2020) starts strongly and proceeds to deliver a series of gripping and, at times, heart-in-the-mouth cinematic moments. “


MANGROVE (2020)

“…Steve McQueen and his exceptional cast deserve all the plaudits in bringing such a vital legal case to the screen. The Mangrove 9’s case is emblematic of the horror of ignorance that has occurred in British history and we must continue to stamp out vitriolic actions based purely on cultural difference and the colour of an individual’s skin.”


PARASITE (2019)

“… more than a voyeuristic air to it with characters hiding around doorways and stairwells, as well as following, spying and watching each other secretly. It’s a film which Hitchcock would have been proud to have directed too, with many suspenseful and gripping set-pieces throughout.”


PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2019)

“… the performances by all the actresses are superb too as Sciamma directs with such confidence. I also liked that the critique of patriarchal society was implicit rather than didactic.”



SAINT MAUD (2019)

“…Saint Maud (2019), overall, is an exceptionally well-crafted low budget work of British cinema. It is more than just a calling card for the extremely talented director, Rose Glass. Her grasp of the material is superb and the cinematography and shot composition support her dark vision brilliantly.


TENET (2020)

“… TENET (2020) is a big, brash and confident Bond-type film with bells on. Sure, the rules of the world could have been excavated and presented somewhat clearer. But, Nolan favours a breakneck pace and be damned if you cannot keep up.”


THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO SEVEN (2020)

“… Aaron Sorkin and his incredibly adept ensemble cast deserve much praise for taking such a complex case and distilling it into such an enlightening work of cinema. Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong stand out as a fine double act, while Mark Rylance attends his usual intelligence and class to the role of defence lawyer.”


UNCUT GEMS (2019)

“… Howard himself is an unrelenting addict, his own worst enemy and a whirlwind of broken promises. But, I must admit I was gripped throughout due to overwhelmingly brilliant style, cinematography, editing, direction, darkly funny script and acting performances.”


BBC FILM REVIEW: MANGROVE (2020)

BBC FILM REVIEW: MANGROVE (2020)

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Produced by: Anita Overland, Michael Elliot

Screenplay by: Steve McQueen, Alastair Siddons

Cast: Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Nathaniel Martello-White, Richie Campbell, Alex Jennings, Jack Lowden, Darren Braithwaite, Sam Spruell, Samuel West, Llewella Gideon, Jodhi May, Gary Beadle, Jumayn Hunter, Duane Facey-Pearson, etc.

Music by: Mica Levi

Cinematography: Shabier Kirchner

Original Network: shown on the BBC as part of the Small Axe anthology

***CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS***



“So, if you are the big tree… We are the small axe… Ready to cut you down… To cut you down…” — Bob Marley song, Small Axe


You wait for a thought-provoking courtroom drama about individuals battling an oppressive legal system and end up watching two in two days. It wasn’t a specific plan to follow up my viewing of The Trial of the Chicago Seven (2020), by watching Steve McQueen’s majestic adaptation of the ‘Mangrove Nine’ narrative, but it was most certainly historically and culturally serendipitous. However, while Aaron Sorkin’s entertaining distillation of the 1968-1969 events, which occurred at the Democratic National Convention and subsequently in the U.S. courts, were delivered in an irreverent and satirical style, Steve McQueen’s approach to the systematic racism and brutality of the police force and legal battle which followed in Mangrove (2020), is treated with far more intensity and power.

Mangrove (2020) is the first in a set of five films curated, written and directed by Steve McQueen, in what has become known as the ‘Small Axe’ anthology. It premiered at the London Film Festival in 2020, before being released on the BBC television network. The aim of the ultra-talented McQueen, and his writers, cast and crew is to reflect important historical figures and events from West Indian culture in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Mangrove (2020) centres on the trial of the ‘Mangrove 9’, namely Frank Crichlow, Darcus Howe, Althea Jones-Lecointe, Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Rhodan Gordon, Anthony Innis, Rothwell Kentish; and Godfrey Millett. They were seen as leaders of protests which occurred in August 1970, that resulted in battles with police on the Notting Hill streets. While original charges were thrown out by a magistrate, the then Director of Public Prosecutions decided the case should go to court in 1971.



The excellent screenplay by McQueen and his co-writer Alastair Siddons expertly establishes the era and setting of the story. Similarly, the production design perfectly captures the look of late 1960’s West London. Shaun Parkes’ portrayal of Frank Critchlow is both moving and influential in drawing the viewer into the character’s desires and culture. Critchlow opens the Mangrove Restaurant in 1968 with a longing to establish a place that serves West Indian food; and provide a meeting place within the community. Alas, due to the heavy-handed approach by the police in the area, led mercilessly by Sam Spruell’s P. C. Frank Pulley, Critchlow’s dream is left in tatters by constant raids and arrests. It is the Metropolitan Police’s belief that the Mangrove Restaurant is a hive of criminal activity and drug use. No drugs were found during these raids, thus Critchlow filed charges himself of unlawful arrest. Eventually, Critchlow, Howe, Jones-Lecointe and others became involved in marching and protesting at what they saw as clear racial prejudice by the police.

My emotions while watching the events unfold, from the clashes with police to the subsequence court case, was that it is tragic that there was such violence and division between people of the Commonwealth and the authorities. After all, West Indians were invited by the British Government to come to here in the 1950’s, to help rebuild post-war Britain. Obviously, not all British people rejected them, however, clearly there was an incredible amount of racism and abuse, here illustrated by the police’s horrific attitude in Mangrove (2020). Thus, Steve McQueen and his exceptional cast deserve all the plaudits coming their way in bringing such a vital legal case to the screens. The Mangrove 9’s case is emblematic of the horror of ignorance that has occurred in British history and that we must continue to stamp out vitriolic actions based purely on cultural difference and the colour of an individual’s skin. In representing such important events and individuals moreover, Steve McQueen has delivered one of the most powerful films of 2020.

Mark: 10 out of 11