Mangrove and Lovers Rock, two films from Small Axe, a BBC commissioned anthology of five stories, have both been selected by Cannes for its 73rd edition, a singular achievement for director McQueen having two films selected in the same year.
Small Axe was created and directed by Oscar and Bafta-winning director Steve McQueen. The five films tell personal stories about London’s West Indian community from the late-1960’s to mid-1980’s. The title is derived from an African proverb, which has resonance throughout the Caribbean, “if you are the big tree, we are the small axe”. This was made popular by Bob Marley in The Wailers' song Small Axe from the album Burnin’ (1973).
Mangrove and Lovers Rock, originally commissioned as part of BBC Drama’s Small Axe, have been produced as feature length films in collaboration with BBC Films, making them eligible for Cannes. Each of the five Small Axe films will receive their world premieres on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK later this year.
Steve McQueen says: “I dedicate these films to George Floyd and all the other black people that have been murdered, seen or unseen, because of who they are, in the US, UK and elsewhere. ‘If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.’ Black Lives Matter.”
Charlotte Moore, BBC Director of Content, says: “It’s testament to Steve McQueen’s peerless talent as a director that these two outstanding films from the BBC’s upcoming drama anthology Small Axe have been recognised by the Cannes Film Festival in this way. Small Axe is an extraordinary and visceral piece of work and we are so privileged to have Steve on the BBC and help him bring these stories to as big an audience as possible.”
Mangrove is the true story of the Mangrove 9 and the trial that took place at the Old Bailey in 1970. Letitia Wright (Black Panther), Shaun Parkes (Lost In Space) and Malachi Kirby (Curfew) star alongside Rochenda Sandall (Line Of Duty), Jack Lowden (The Long Song), Sam Spruell (Snow White And The Huntsman), Gershwyn Eustache (The Gentleman), Nathaniel Martello-White (Collateral), Richie Campbell (Liar), Jumayn Hunter (Les Miserables) and Gary Beadle (Summer Of Rockets). Mangrove was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen.
Lovers Rock tells a fictional story of young love and music at a blues party in the early 1980s. Amarah-Jae St Aubyn makes her screen debut opposite the Baftas 2020 Rising Star award recipient Micheal Ward (Blue Story). Shaniqua Okwok (Boys), Kedar Williams-Stirling (Sex Education), Ellis George (Dr Who), Alexander James-Blake (Top Boy), Kadeem Ramsay (Blue Story) also star, as well as Francis Lovehall and Daniel Francis-Swaby who make their screen debuts. Lovers Rock was co-written by Courttia Newland and Steve McQueen.
Small Axe has been executive produced by Tracey Scoffield and David Tanner for Turbine Studios and Steve McQueen for Lammas Park. Mike Elliot is producing for EMU Films with Turbine and Anita Overland. The executive producers for the BBC are Lucy Richer, Senior Commissioning Editor for Drama and Rose Garnett, Director of BBC Films. Amazon Studios is co-producing within the US. BBC Studios are handling global television sales with Turbine Studios managing theatric distribution.