Last Night’s TV – Small Island

by Lynn Connolly

small island

I was expecting great things from this drama, and in part, got them, but in others – and sadly, the ‘others’ dominated – I was disappointed.

Primarily, the biggest of those disappointments came because of the voiceover narration. It often seemed intrusive and unnecessary, and somehow, pious.

Andrea Levy’s book painted a rich tapestry of the lives of characters, and primarily of course, the Jamaicans who’d landed on these shores in the 1940s, and I’m afraid for me, it’s lost something in the translation from page to screen.

That’s not to say the acting wasn’t superb; Naomie Harris as Hortense was totally convincing and likewise, David Oyelowo as Gilbert and Ruth Wilson as Queenie were vividly played, and their combined performances made up a lot for liberties taken with Levy’s original piece.

What did manage to go over especially well though was the six-degrees-of-separation issue over Michael – charismatically played by Ashley Walters – who both Hortense and Queenie loved, without either knowing of the other’s relationship with him.

The settings were compellingly atmospheric too. The Caribbean vistas, when compared to the smog, soot covered views of London, added a poignant piquancy to the three main protagonists decision to move to the UK.

But back to downsides and I found the scene of Queenie and Michael engaged in a spot of lust was made somewhat ridiculous by the addition of the parsimonious voice saying,
“There are two kinds of love; one is solid and enduring like the ground beneath your feet. The other is a hurricane, fierce and powerful.”

Did we really need that added to a scene in which the acting provided all the narration necessary? Queenie’s marriage to the pedestrian but reliable Bernard – played in a pleasantly understated manner by Benedict Cumberbatch – also parlayed those spoken words, so again, why add them? It seemed incongruous and another intrusion.

In conclusion, I may well continue to watch because it’s a story I love well, but I might not enjoy it as much as I’d hoped I would.

What did you think of it?

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.