Small Island (miniseries)

If you run across a copy of the Small Island DVD at Barnes & Noble, Target, etc., you’ll notice that Ruth Wilson and Benedict Cumberbatch feature prominently on the cardboard sleeve; David Oyelowo and Naomie Harris? Not so much. This is more than a bit misleading. It’s not as egregious as a trailer that contains scenes that aren’t in the film, but it’s not accurate either.

Small Island is a title with multiple meanings, which become clear as you view the program. The story starts just prior to WWII, and ends some time afterward. To say the war had an affect on the lives of the characters would be an understatement.

At the time, Jamaica was part of the British Empire (it gained independence in 1962). Hortense (Harris) dreams of moving to the “Mother Country” and becoming a teacher. Some would call her delusional; others: naive. I’m extrapolating here, but Hortense seems to be under the impression that Jamaica is on equal footing with Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. And in some ways, she is correct.

Hortense has feelings for her lifelong friend Michael, (Ashley Walters) to which he is oblivious. She desires to marry Michael, and they will live happily ever after in England, but the war gets in the way. Michael enlists in the Royal Air Force, and Hortense is left to her own devices.

Meanwhile in old London town, Queenie (Wilson) is working in her aunt’s shoppe. It’s where Bernard (Cumberbatch) buys the daily paper and a bag of sweets. The two marry, and when the war starts, Bernard enlists in the RAF.

Queenie escapes the London Blitz by moving to her family’s farm in Yorkshire. She brings along Bernard’s father (Karl Johnson). While there, Queenie meets Gilbert, (Oyelowo) a Jamaican who is in the RAF. After the war, Gilbert rents a spare room from Queenie, and eventually brings his wife over from Jamaica.

I am intentionally leaving a lot out, but you get the general idea. Maybe. There is a lot going on in Small Island, but not so much that you need to take notes. The script is based on the novel by Andrea Levy, which I haven’t read, but would like to.

Small Island is pleasant, but not without fault. I understand the point of using a narrator, (Hugh Quarshie) but I thought the inclusion was unnecessary. Your enjoyment of the program may depend on how you feel about the characters. Some of them are unlikable, but that is what makes for a good drama.


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