Fancasting British Literature: Andrea Levy’s Small Island

Takes place in the years 1947 and 1948: England is recovering from the war, but at Nevern Street in London the battle has only just begun.
Queenie Bligh’s neighbours don’t like it when she decides to rent out her rooms to Jamaican tenants, but Queenie (Lily James) doesn’t know when or if her husband Bernard (Ben Whishaw) will return. What else can she do?
Gilbert Joseph (David Oyelowo) was one of thousands of West Indian men who joined the RAF in the fight against the Nazis. Returning to England as a civilian, he finds himself treated very differently.
His wife, Hortense (Carmen Ejogo), too, wanted a better life in England. When she joins him there, she is horrified to find that the motherland is shabby, and not paved with gold like the stories from home said.
Through the stories of Queenie, Gilbert, Hortense and Bernard, Small Island analyses a part of Britain’s not-too-distant history as the country is edged into a cultural shift that would define it in the decades to come.
Andrea Levy discusses the themes of empire, war, racism and love. And in the end, she shows that the small island was not Jamaica as one might assume, but England.

Key Events / Themes

  1. Queenie being shown kindness by the black man at The British Empire Exhibition.
  2. Michael, Gilbert and Hortense going to England.
  3. Institutional Racism.
  4. The Second World War.
  5. Queenie’s relationship with Michael.
  6. Gilbert V Bernard – Gilbert’s monologue / argument with Bernard on how they both fought in the war and how the colours of their skin doesn’t matter.
  7. The Birth of a Child.

My Cast


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Creator: John Ridley

Writers: John Ridley & Andrea Levy

Series Directors: Philippa Lowthorpe & John Alexander

Main Characters

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Musical Score: Patrick Doyle (A United Kingdom)

Cinematographer: Chris Seager (Call The Midwife)

No. Seasons: One

Supporting Characters

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No. Episodes: Eight

Distribution: ITV1 (UK) & PBS Masterpiece (US)

Production: Carnival Film & Television

Additional Characters (Before)

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Country of Origin: United Kingdom

Running Time: 60 mins

Certificate: 15

Flashback Characters (British Empire Exhibition ‘Just After WWI’)

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Andrea Levy’s novel is a wonderful story about love, war and colonialism. Britain was built on immigration and Small Island is more important now than ever before, as things have come full circle.

And as history looks to be repeating itself, Small Island will continue to be relevant