Small Axe
Created bySteve McQueen
Written by
Directed bySteve McQueen
ComposerMica Levi
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series1
No. of episodes5 (list of episodes)
Executive producers
  • Steve McQueen
  • Tracey Scoffield
  • David Tanner
  • Lucy Richer
  • Rose Garnett
  • Anita Overland
  • Mike Elliot
CinematographyShabier Kirchner
Running time405 minutes
Production companies
Original release
NetworkBBC One
Release15 November (2020-11-15) –
13 December 2020 (2020-12-13)

Small Axe is a British anthology film series, created and directed by Steve McQueen. The anthology consists of five films that tell distinct stories about the lives of West Indian immigrants in London from the 1960s to the 1980s.[1] Two episodes of the series were selected into the 2020 Cannes Film Festival. The series premiered on 15 November 2020 on BBC One in the United Kingdom and on 20 November 2020 on Amazon Prime Video in the United States.[2][3][4] The title references a proverb – "Small axe fall big tree" or "If you are the big tree, we are the small axe" – that was popularised by Bob Marley in his 1973 song "Small Axe".[5]


Episode Title Director Screenwriters UK release date[6] US release date[7] Runtime
1 Mangrove Steve McQueen McQueen and Alastair Siddons 15 November 2020 20 November 2020 128 min.
2 Lovers Rock McQueen and Courttia Newland 22 November 2020 27 November 2020 68 min.
3 Red, White, and Blue 29 November 2020 4 December 2020 80 min.
4 Alex Wheatle McQueen and Alastair Siddons 6 December 2020 11 December 2020 66 min.
5 Education 13 December 2020 18 December 2020 63 min.



It has been reported that Steve McQueen began working on the idea for Small Axe in 2010, and that some form of the series was in development since 2012.[8][9] While the series was initially conceived as a conventional television series with a serialized story, McQueen realized during development that he had sufficient material to make several distinct films.[9] In January 2014, it was announced that he would write and direct an untitled television series for either BBC One or BBC Two about the experience of black people in Britain.[10] In August 2015, it was announced that the series would air on BBC One.[11] In June 2019, Amazon Prime Video was announced to be distributing the series in the United States, with Amazon Studios co-producing.[12] The screenwriters include the British-Caribbean novelist Courttia Newland (author of The Gospel According to Cane, 2013) and Alastair Siddons.[9]


In June 2019, it was announced that Letitia Wright, John Boyega, Malachi Kirby, Shaun Parkes, Rochenda Sandall, Alex Jennings, and Jack Lowden had joined the cast of the series.[13] In January 2020, Micheal Ward joined the cast of the series.[14]


Lovers Rock had its world premiere as the opener of the 58th New York Film Festival on 17 September 2020.[15][16][17] Mangrove had its world premiere at the festival on 25 September,[18][19] and Red, White, and Blue on 3 October.[20] Mangrove also opened the 64th BFI London Film Festival on 7 October 2020;[21] Lovers Rock screened at the same festival on 18 October.[22][23]

The series premiered in the UK on BBC One on 15 November 2020 and in the United States on Amazon Prime Video on 20 November 2020, with one episode released per week on both platforms.[4][24]

The series received a Blu-Ray release by The Criterion Collection on April 25, 2023. The release includes the five films, plus interviews and conversations with director Steve McQueen and cast/crew members, the 2021 documentary Uprising (codirected by McQueen and James Rogan), trailers, and an essay by Ashley Clark.[25]


Critical response

Critical press reviews of each individual film were positive. All five films received approval ratings of at least 95% on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, while Metacritic assigned four of the five a score indicating "universal acclaim".

Lovers Rock, in particular, was named the best film of 2020 by the British film magazine Sight & Sound in its poll of 104 critics worldwide; Mangrove came in at 13th.[26]

Film Rotten Tomatoes rating Metacritic rating
Mangrove 99% approval (8.79/10 average)[27] 90 (27 critics)[28]
Lovers Rock 98% approval (8.82/10 average)[29] 95 (27 critics)[30]
Red, White and Blue 97% approval (8.31/10 average)[31] 84 (18 critics)[32]
Alex Wheatle 97% approval (7.35/10 average)[33] 77 (17 critics)[34]
Education 95% approval (7.94/10 average)[35] 87 (15 critics)[36]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best Cinematography Shabier Kirchner (for "Lovers Rock") Runner-up [37]
Broadcasting Press Guild Best Drama Series Small Axe Nominated [38]
Best Actress Letitia Wright Nominated
Best Actor Shaun Parkes Nominated
Best Writer Steve McQueen, Courttia Newland, Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Alastair Siddons Nominated
Breakthrough Award Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn Nominated
British Academy Television Awards Best Mini-Series Steve McQueen, Tracey Scoffield, David Tanner, Michael Elliott, Anita Overland Nominated [39]
Best Actor John Boyega (for "Red, White and Blue") Nominated
Shaun Parkes (for "Mangrove") Nominated
Best Actress Letitia Wright (for "Mangrove") Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Malachi Kirby (for "Mangrove") Won
Micheal Ward (for "Lovers Rock") Nominated
British Academy Television Craft Awards Best Costume Design Jacqueline Durran Won
Best Director: Fiction Steve McQueen Nominated
Best Editing: Fiction Chris Dickens and Steve McQueen Nominated
Best Make Up and Hair Design Jojo Williams Won
Best Photography & Lighting: Fiction Shabier Kirchner Won
Best Production Design Helen Scott Won
Best Scripted Casting Gary Davy Won
Best Sound: Fiction Paul Cotterell, James Harrison, Ronald Bailey Nominated
Best Writer: Drama Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers Awards Best Cinematography in a Television Drama Shabier Kirchner (for "Mangrove") Nominated [40]
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Lovers Rock Nominated [41]
Best Director Steve McQueen (for "Lovers Rock") Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Letitia Wright (for "Mangrove") Nominated
Best Cinematography Shabier Kirchner (for "Lovers Rock") Nominated
Best Editing Chris Dickens and Steve McQueen (for "Lovers Rock") Nominated
Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Actor in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television John Boyega (for "Red, White and Blue") Won [42]
Golden Globe Awards Best Limited Series or Television Film Small Axe Nominated [43]
Best Supporting Actor – Television John Boyega Won
Gotham Awards Breakthrough Series – Long Format Small Axe Nominated [44]
Hollywood Critics Association TV Awards Best Streaming Limited Series, Anthology Series or Live-Action Television Movie Small Axe Nominated [45]
Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series, Anthology Series or Television Movie John Boyega Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards Best New Scripted Series Small Axe Nominated [46]
London Film Critics Circle Awards Film of the Year Lovers Rock Nominated [47]
Director of the Year Small Axe Won
Supporting Actor of the Year Shaun Parkes Won
Attenborough Award for British/Irish Film of the Year Lovers Rock Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Picture Small Axe Won [48]
Best Director Steve McQueen Runner-up
Best Cinematography Shabier Kirchner Won
Best Music Mica Levi (for "Lovers Rock") Runner-up
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series Steve McQueen (for "Mangrove") Nominated [49]
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Cinematographer Shabier Kirchner Won [50]
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie Shabier Kirchner (for "Mangrove") Nominated [51]
RTS Programme Awards Mini-Series Small Axe Nominated [52]
Actor - Male Shaun Parkes Won
Writer - Drama Steve McQueen and Alistair Siddeon Nominated
RTS Craft & Design Awards Director - Drama Steve McQueen Nominated [53]
Satellite Awards Best Miniseries & Limited Series Small Axe Nominated [54]
Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Film John Boyega Nominated
Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Film Letitia Wright Nominated
Peabody Awards Entertainment Small Axe Won [55]


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