Movies

‘The Long Song’ review: Mainly dealing with slavery, but also discusses other weighty issues

Tamara Lawrance and Hayley Atwell in ‘The Long Song’

Tamara Lawrance and Hayley Atwell in ‘The Long Song’   | Photo Credit: Carlos Rodriguez

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Apart from the sharp writing, the stand out cast is an added bonus to this eminently watchable show

Based on Andrea Levy’s eponymous novel, which was the finalist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, The Long Song is set in colonial Jamaica, focusing on the events before and after the abolition of slavery in 1833. Beautifully shot, written and acted, The Long Song proves there are no easy answers, characterisations or conclusions. Yes, slavery is horrific and human beings are capable of incredible cruelty towards their fellows, but what of crimes committed for the right reasons, for ‘their own good’? What of people who are essentially good, who set off wanting to do good but falter on the way or are defeated by circumstances?

The Long Song is nuanced, and does not take recourse to easy generalisations or broad stereotypes. July, a young slave girl, is the protagonist of The Long Song. Her mother, Kitty, is a slave on Amity, a sugarcane plantation, while her father is the Scottish overseer of the plantation — July says she is a Mulato not a negro.

Caroline Mortimer and her brother own the plantation and when Caroline sees July as a little girl, she is captivated and takes her from her weeping mother without a second thought. She decides to call her Marguerite and they settle into a rhythm with July blithely ignoring her mistress’s repeated calls and doing things at her own pace.

Caroline decides to throw a Christmas party even as her brother balks at the expense. She decides to have many candles “like in England,” while the guests complain of the heat. Caroline does not start off as cruel; she is just insensitive, blithely looking at the slaves as sub human or pets and is all more scary for it.

The Long Song
  • Seasons: 1
  • Episodes: 3
  • Run time: 60 minutes
  • Starring: Tamara Lawrance, Hayley Atwell, Jack Lowden, Jordan Bolger, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Gordon Brown, Ayesha Antoine, Leo Bill, Sir Lenny Henry, Madeleine Mantock
  • Screenplay: Sarah Williams
  • Director: Mahalia Belo

The Christmas riots and the abolition of slavery do not mean much to the slaves on the plantation as while the plantation owners are compensated, the slaves are not. A new overseer, Robert Goodwin, complicates matters even more by wanting to treat the freed slaves well and also falling in love with July. He marries Caroline as that is what he is expected to do but fathers a child with July, a pretty little girl called Emily.

When the workers refuse to work through Christmas, Robert violently turns upon them, much to July’s horror. The workers revolt, Robert has a breakdown and things fall apart.

Shot in the Dominican Republic, The Long Song premièred on BBC One. The singsong accents are enchanting as is the paradise-like setting. In every paradise, there are serpents lurking and the idyllic Amity has its share of serpents in the form of oppression and racism. While some critics have found the framed narrative clumsy, (the story is told by an older July), I felt it worked, adding structure, poignancy and character to the sprawling tale.

Apart from the sharp writing, the stand out cast is an added bonus to this show. Tamara Lawrance as July brings out every shade of her character from young girl out to have some fun at the cost of her rather silly mistress to a woman in love, from a mother who loses everything including her child to final redemption.

Hayley Atwell is a revelation as Caroline embodying her change from foolish to pitiful to coldly calculating and Jack Lowden as Robert starts off being a hero to both the women and ends up running away back to England a beaten man.

While mainly dealing with slavery and its aftermath, The Long Song, masterfully discusses other weighty issues. Doing so in an engaging manner, is what makes the show eminently watchable.

The Long Song airs every Monday from December 16 at 10 pm on AXN

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 10:41:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/the-long-song-review-mainly-dealing-with-slavery-but-also-discusses-other-weighty-issues/article30321141.ece

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