Tamara Lawrance stars as an indomitable house slave in Jamaica during the era of emancipation, with Hayley Atwell as her demanding, capricious mistress, in “The Long Song,” a miniseries in three parts beginning Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021, on WGCU PBS.
Based on the award-winning novel by Andrea Levy, the miniseries airs through February 14, 2021, at 10 pm.
The British press applauded the UK broadcast of “The Long Song,” with The
Guardian calling it “a beautiful, moving, horrifying adaptation of Levy’s
unsimple tale, that honors the source and its subject.” The Radio Times
judged it “so finely-tuned and carefully-balanced that it’ll break your heart
and make you laugh at the same time.” And The Times opined, “What can a
period slavery drama tell us that we don’t already know? Quite a bit.”
“The Long Song” also stars Jack Lowden, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Jordan Bolger, Ayesha Antoine, Gordon Brown, Leo Bill, Madeleine Mantock, and the acclaimed comic, actor, and activist Sir Lenny Henry.
Andrea Levy, who died in 2019, was born in London to Jamaican parents
and spent her writing career probing her heritage. Her numerous literary
awards included the Walter Scott Prize for “The Long Song” (published in
2010), which was also a finalist for the English language’s most prestigious
book award: the Man Booker Prize.
“The Long Song” is framed by the reminiscences of July (played as a young
woman by Lawrance), who grew up as a slave on a sugar plantation in
Jamaica and is now looking back on her life. In extended flashbacks, she
recounts her tumultuous story, which has been shaped by villains, heroes,
and well-meaning people who are an unsettled mix of the two.
First, there are July’s parents: Her mother, Kitty (Duncan-Brewster), is a stoic field slave. Her father is the brutal Scottish overseer of the plantation, Tam Dewar (Brown), who regularly rapes Kitty.
As a young girl, July is callously taken from her mother at the whim of Caroline (Atwell), the sister of the plantation owner, John Howarth (Bill). Caroline wants July for a lady’s maid and bestows on her a more genteel name, Marguerite. July grows up catering to Caroline’simpulses, surrounded by other slaves, including the canny Godfrey (Henry), the spiteful Molly (Antoine), and the haughty Clara (Mantock). There is also the debonaire Nimrod (Bolger), who has bought his freedom and fancies July, promising her a fairy-tale life with him.
A moment of truth arrives with the Christmas Rebellion of 1831, a slave uprising that heralds the end of official slavery in Jamaica and other English colonies—but at a great cost in lives, including some who are near and dear to July. In the aftermath, a handsome new overseer, Robert Goodwin (Lowden), rides into the story. He will set hearts aflutter, establish an enlightened tone with the emancipated slaves, and play a tragic role in the fates of all.