Film Review – Small Axe: Education (2020)

Title – Small Axe: Education (2020)

Director – Steve McQueen (Widows)

Cast – Kenyah Sandy, Sharlene Whyte, Josette Simon

Plot – The finale of the Small Axe series that focuses on 12 year old Kingsley Smith (Sandy) and his poor experiences in the British education system as the child of immigrants.

“They say our children are too loud, too slow or too lively”

Review by Eddie on 20/04/2021

Ending his Small Axe series with a typically understated finale, Education brings Steve McQueen’s five part series to a close with a quietly spoken examination of the one time failing British education system in an era were racial prejudices flowed down to the children of immigrants and refugees who now called Britain home.

Finishing right around an hour in length, Education is not concerned with deep diving or over examining its subject (here played by Kenyah Sandy as 12 year old Kingsley) or its subject matter but there’s still ample heart and learnings to be taken from this calm and measured experience that ends up being the most intimately focused of the Small Axe bunch.

Filmed in a way that makes it appear as though it comes from the very time period in which it is set, right before Margaret Thatcher became heavily involved in the U.K political scene, there’s a documentary like quality to McQueen and his team’s approach to the story of Kingsley and his family as well as the story of his fellow children that were suffering at the hands of a weighted educational system.

It’s a naturalistic approach from McQueen, one that fits perfectly with his more understated directional moments in his biggest films like Hunger and 12 Years a Slave and when you view this film as the last piece of the puzzle in the wider whole of the Small Axe series, it offers a shocking but sadly not surprising confirmation that the racist undertones of many British citizens of the time had a way of rearing its ugly head in all aspects of peoples lives at the time.

This effect is all achieved without any gut-punch revelations or moments of grandstanding, highlighted by the impressive but restrained performance of its young leading man, you almost wish McQueen had gone more for the jugular here but for a film that is over and done with in an hour, there’s still more power and skill on show here than many other bigger budgeted and higher profile counterparts.

Final Say – 

A quiet but important finale to the Small Axe series that has seen McQueen get TV products well and truly into the awards conversations, Education may not pack an emotional knockout but its an insightful reminder of times gone by none the less.

3 1/2 guitar playing teachers out of 5 

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