Film Review – Small Axe: Alex Wheatle (2020)

Title – Small Axe: Alex Wheatle (2020)

Director – Steve McQueen (Hunger)

Cast – Sheyi Cole, Robbie Gee, Jonathan Jules

Plot – A look at the early life of author and advocate Alex Wheatle (Cole) as he comes to terms with who he is in the midst of racial tensions in the early 80’s of Britain.

“For me; it was always about the music” 

Review by Eddie on 15/02/2021

Part four of Academy Award winning director Steve McQueen’s five part mini-series of feature length films documenting the struggles of immigrants in the U.K during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, Alex Wheatle is the second shortest addition to the Small Axe cannon and its a film that suffers from the confines of an hour long running time, with the feeling that now renowned author Alex Wheatle’s story had a lot more too give.

As is to be expected from McQueen and the Small Axe brand that he helped birth, Alex Wheatle is a well-made film and features great production values, attention to detail and a nice central turn from upcoming actor Sheyi Cole but from the moment we meet Wheatle entering into jail for an at the time unknown criminal offense through to when we see him last stroll off into the credits an hour later, this intriguing figure who lived an undoubtedly tough early life remains an enigma, one audiences would’ve like to get to know more than what they are privy too here.

Raised without parents and thrust into a world he doesn’t fully comprehend or understand his place in at the time, McQueen and his fellow screenwriter Alastair Siddons are unable to fully connect with their audience as Alex Wheatle at times floats along without much drive or aim as we get scenes of Wheatle buying musical records, learning the values of life with his new cell mate or connecting with new acquaintances he meets in the outside world but there’s no real glue holding any of these situations together, even if we can gather Wheatle is set on a career in music and fighting for a better life for his fellow people.

It’s an aimless kind of way to spend an hour with a figure who is absolutely worth exploring more deeply and as the film draws close to its final moments, we just start to feel as though McQueen’s film is ramping up to become the powerful entry into the Small Axe film series it at times threatened to be but you’re left at films end wishing there was more time and effort spent on further exploring the journey of Wheatle that had lead to him becoming an award winning author and advocate to change, as well as a personal journey that connected him to his past to help understand the future.

Final Say – 

Another well made and performed entry into the Small Axe series, there’s an overarching sense that Alex Wheatle had more to give both as a film and a story, even if its always a pleasure to witness McQueen’s work come to life in such artistic and humanistic ways.

3 wise cellmates out of 5 

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