Small Island Review: Moody Drama

December 6, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews


small-island588SMALL ISLAND: Sunday 6th December, BBC1, 9pm ALERT ME

Atmospheric music, dark lighting, majestic scenery and an evangelical narrator. This drama may well put you to sleep after one and a half hours. In other words, the perfect night cap for a Sunday evening.

A TV adaptation of the well-acclaimed book by Andrea Levy, this ‘flashback’ love and war story explores the themes of prejudice, race and relationships in 1940s Britain. If only the characters weren’t so self-occupied.

Jamaican-born Hortense, ever-dreaming of eloping with her father’s cousin’s son, the elusive rogue Michael, is a woman scorned when she sees him kissing a teacher. Demanding an explanation in the middle of a hurricane, she is portrayed as an irrational bunny boiler from the outset.

Thinking she spots Michael returning from war in England, she runs over like a woman possessed. It’s not him, but the agreeable Gilbert, who she later cons as part of her master plan. Needless to say, at the end of the episode she’s punched in the face.

Ambitious Yorkshire-born Queenie, meanwhile, tries to put off her eventual husband, the boring Bernard, by telling him she grew up on a pig farm. It doesn’t work, and she marries him anyway. This is a good thing, if only for her ‘shell-shocked’ father-in-law, Arthur. Aimlessly munching on biscuits, playing cards and ambling about in his pyjamas, the character’s performance is innocent and touching by comparison.

With Bernard at war, Queenie becomes a landlady for soldiers out of boredom and loneliness. When RAF man Michael (yes, the same one) shows up unexpectedly with an orange, she finds his charms all too hard to resist. After his poignant story about a hummingbird in rubble, this literally renders her mute. Less can be said for the sporadic, patronising narrator (sorry, Hugh Quarshie).

The spattering of plot twists sees all characters overlapping in contrived coincidences. By the end of it you’ll feel contented, tired or be left mulling over that photograph of Michael against a tree. He even makes cliché outdoor poses look cool. The scoundrel…

Emma Rink