Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week, Hal Kitchen checks out Steve McQueen’s Small Axe: Red, White and Blue, Abbie Sears recommends the Sweet Boys podcast, and Laura Stewart offers up “Kill Them With Kindness” from IDLES as our song of the week.
Small Axe: Red, White and Blue
Hal: Following Mangrove and Lovers Rock, the third entry in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series tells the true story of Leroy Logan, a man who in the early 1980s joined the Metropolitan police force in the hope that his example might lead to slow reform of the force’s institutional racism (my dad was alive at the time and according to him, if anything this film tones down the level of racism in the Met at the time).
The role returns lead actor John Boyega, who recently took on a more public activism, to a similar role to the more urgent Detroit, between an intractable system unresponsive to his influence and a community that regards him as a racial traitor. A particular factor arrives in that, the whole time Logan is in training, his father is awaiting trial for ‘resisting arrest’, having been violently assaulted by two officers, and vociferously opposes his son’s calling.
As with Mangrove, despite the film’s function as an act of political expression, it also functions as a temporal capsule of Britain’s black community in the 1980s, with the role of music particularly foregrounded: Logan was a close friend of Leee John of the Imaginations, and he identifies a potential ally within the Met by overhearing him listening to Marvin Gaye.
These warmer moments of humour, communal togetherness and song are contrasted against starker material. The frustrations of both Leroy and his father are handled with a bluntness that sometimes undermines their force, though you can feel his cheeks burning in the film’s final confrontation with his supervisor. The real heart of the film is found in the growing mutual understanding between him and his father as the thing that has been driving them apart finally starts to bring them together. Their approaches to the same fight are very different, and neither method is as immediately effective as they had hoped.
It’s an honest and direct piece with moments of real intensity, carried by strong performances and typically forceful directing. However, at just eighty minutes long it feels somewhat undercooked, playing almost as a feature length pilot to a miniseries, more than a standalone film. Neither Mangrove nor Lovers Rock noticeably suffered for being a TV presentation rather than a feature film, but perhaps there are moments here where the cracks show a little, even if it is a substantial and taut film for what it is.