Streaming on Britbox and available elsewhere is Small Island, adapted from a novel by Andrea Levy. It apparently streamed on PBS Masterpiece in 2010, which I obviously missed. If it hadn’t been for the Period Drama Facebook Group, I probably would have missed this one altogether. I watched the two-part series (90-minute episodes) in its entirety last night, staying up past my bedtime. It was well worth the lack of sleep.
The story, in the beginning, flashes back and forth between the lives of two young Jamaicans – Hortense (Naomie Harris) and Michael (Ashley Walters) – pre-World War 2. On the other side of the world, it’s Bernard (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Queenie (Ruth Wilson). Each has their own dreams – Hortense of marrying Michael; Michael rebellious in his upbringing; Queenie escaping her childhood and the pig farm; and Bernard a shy man, living with his father.
Eventually, life splits Hortense and Michael. Queenie marries Bernard to escape returning home to her parents, and then the war breaks out. War, as you know, throws everyone’s lives in various directions with new challenges.
The main focus of the story is the character of Queenie, who doesn’t have a prejudice bone in her body when it comes to black people. When Benedict leaves for war and she’s left alone in the house, she offers three airmen housing. One of the young men is the charismatic Michael, a handsome and alluring man in uniform. Queenie willingly succumbs to his seduction and the next day he’s off on another mission.
As the story continues, she meets Gilbert, also from Jamaica and they form a friendship. He marries Hortense, and the two of them eventually live in Queenie’s home because Benedict never returned after the war. I could continue the remainder of the series but will spare you spoilers.
The story, of course, shows the bias against the black Jamaicans among the English. Jamaican children under English rule were taught to love the “motherland” and obviously Gilbert did as a child and adult. Unfortunately, when he’s in the country who he believes supports and accepts him as an Englishman too, he finds the stark reality that prejudice against his skin color is no different than it is in the United States.
I enjoyed this two-part series and recommend it to those looking for another pre-WW2 or WW2 storyline that delves into a different aspect of human behavior during those years. It’s well acted and packaged to please.