BRISTOL actor Stewart Wright is among the cast of Small Axe, an important drama anthology of five films by Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen, telling stories of London’s West Indian community between the late 1960s and mid-1980s.
Stewart, 46, stars alongside BAFTA-award winning Naomi Ackie (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) and Daniel Francis (Disney/ABC’s Once Upon A Time) in Education, one of the five films created and directed by McQueen, who directed 12 Years a Slave. The story focuses on a hard-working family whose lives are disrupted when the 12-year-old son Kingsley is sent to a school for children with special educational needs. The film explores the controversy surrounding Haringey Council’s 1971 educational segregation policy.
The Bristol-based actor plays Mr Baines, a form teacher in the special needs school who is disinterested in the teaching part of his job, so focuses his energy on playing guitar to the children and finding other things to amuse himself.
Stewart Wright has been a regular performer at Bristol Old Vic, appearing in eight productions including Swallows and Amazons and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He has played a wide variety of roles in film and TV for more than 20 years, since his debut in Fierce Creatures, which starred John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis. His breakthrough came playing Nick Levick in the award-winning mockumentary series People Like Us. For two series, he was Martin Clunes’ foil, PC Mark Mylow, in ITV’s hit show Doc Martin.
He says: “Reading the script and learning more about the racism and discrimination experienced by London’s West Indian community in the 1970s was compelling. As a teenager, I’d been really moved by the Richard Attenborough film Cry Freedom, set in apartheid-era South Africa. At that time, I was starting to dream about becoming an actor myself. I hoped to tell stories that provoked thought and challenged perceptions in the same way that Cry Freedom had for me.”
With Bristol’s recent history of the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue and the removal of Colston’s name from Bristol venues, schools and buildings, Small Axe makes a timely connection between 1970s London and Bristol in 2020.
The series starts on BBC1 on Sunday 15th November. Education is on Sunday 13th December and also stars Sharlene Whyte, Tamara Lawrance, Josette Simon and Jairaj Varsani.
Three of the other feature length dramas in the five-film anthology, Lovers Rock, Mangrove and Red, White and Blue, opened the 58th New York Film Festival in September to huge critical acclaim. Red, White and Blue sees John Boyega in his first post-Star Wars role, playing Leroy Logan, a pioneering Met Police officer who fought for change after seeing his own father assaulted by two officers. Mangrove, which also opened the 64th BFI London Film Festival in October, tells the story of anti-racism protestors who marched on police stations in August 1970; nine were charged with incitement to riot and brought to trial.
The director says: “The seed of Small Axe was sown 11 years ago. Initially, I had conceived of it as a TV series, but I realised these stories had to stand alone as original films, yet at the same time be part of a collective. The anthology, anchored in the West Indian experience in London, is a celebration of all that that community has succeeded in achieving against the odds. They are about the past, yet they are very much concerned with the present.”
Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, which starred Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free man who is kidnapped into slavery, received nine Academy Award nominations, winning three: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o. McQueen was the first black British producer to receive the award and the first black British director of a Best Picture winner. The film also won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and the BAFTAs for Best Film and Best Actor for Ejiofor.