“Small Island” Concludes on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre Sunday
There is very little that we here in the U.S. know about the Black British experience. Jamaicans and other West Indians have migrated here and kept a separate but proud identity as black, as islanders and as Americans. But blacks in Britain? No, they weren’t accepted even when they came “home” to the mother country, doing much of the shitwork of the war effort. Even when they decided to get educations, skills and to settle and prosper. Not even now after nearly sixty years.
Small Island is based on the book by Andrea Levy. Levy centers the action on four characters and their points-of-view, of Hortense, Queenie, Gilbert and Bernard. Hortense, the snobbish, naive, )outside daughter of a white government official and his Jamaican lover, nourishes a fantasy of Britain being welcoming towards its black citizens; Queenie is the white wife left to care for a silent, shell-shocked, WW I vet father-in-law who falls in love with a black airman; Gilbert marries Hortense and brings her to London after the war because there is nothing left for them both in “small island” Jamaica; and Bernard is Queenie’s husband: nebbish, in over his head when it comes to Queenie, but racist and threatened by his wife’s choices and attitudes.
About Levy herself, she is multi-racial; she is primarily Afro-British of Jamaican parentage. Levy has a Jewish paternal grandfather and a Scottish maternal great-grandfather.
I like this film so far. It’s about time something like this was shown on PBS (not that White Teeth wasn’t something). But I doubt whether Small Island was made simply for American consumption. As I said before, Britain too is still unaccepting of its black citizens and citizens of color. From what I understand, the cities and some suburbs seem more inviting to blacks; there remains an uncompromising area and heart of the “small island” that refuses to change, make room, and accept, sort of like the American South, or reminiscent of the Red State-Blue State dichotomy here. Even the popular Colin Firth who has been an executive producer for a documentary on Mumia, contributed to a book on threatened tribal peoples, and fights for African asylum seekers as well as the reclusive singer Sade, who lives in the Cotswolds, knows this.
“It can be very hostile, England. Not just to me, to everybody. England’s like a sour old auntie. You go and stay with her although she criticises you all the time and doesn’t treat you right, even when you’re doing your best. But you keep on loving her, in a certain way. And then you die.” She laughs. “Those bitches always outlive you!”
This is only one part of Part 1. You can watch the whole Part 1 and Part 2 here and also on YouTube.
Watch. Enjoy. And learn.