Alex Wheatle: Part 4 in Steve McQueen’s Historical Drama, Small Axe

Steve McQueen directed and co-wrote (with Alastair Siddons) the harrowing biopic, Alex Wheatle, as a segment of his ambitious five-part historical drama, Small Axe.

Sheyi Cole shines as Alex Wheatle, a Black British novelist who was sentenced to  imprisonment after the 1981 Brixton uprising.

With a running time of 66 minutes, this film is too short to explore in depth the rather complex life of its titular hero.

The film was released as part of the anthology series Small Axe on BBC One on 6 December 6, 2020 and was streamed on Amazon Prime Video on December 11, 2020.

Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen holding Best Picture Oscar (cropped).JPG

Cast

Sheyi Cole as Alex Wheatle
Asad-Shareef Muhammad as Young Alex Wheatle
Robbie Gee as Simeon
Johann Myers as Cutlass Rankin
Jonathan Jules as Dennis Isaacs
Elliot Edusah as Valin
Khali Best as Badger
Fumilayo Brown-Olateju as Dawn
Dexter Flanders as Floyd

Alex Wheatle

Born in 1963 in London to Jamaican parents, Wheatle spent much of his childhood in a Shirley Oaks children’s home. At the age of 16, he was a founder of the Crucial Rocker sound system; his DJ name was Yardman Irie. He wrote lyrics about everyday life in Brixton, south London.

By 1980, Wheatle was living in a social services hostel in Brixton, later participating in the 1981 Brixton riots and aftermath. While serving sentence, he read authors such as Chester Himes, Richard Wright, C. L. R. James and John Steinbeck.

Wheatle’s cellmate, a Rastafari, encouraged him to start reading books and cultivate his education. Aspects of his life later feature in his books, such as East of Acre Lane.