Steve Toussaint

Small Axe: Red, White and Blue

07/12/20

BBC iPlayer

After the experimental Lovers Rock – which I have to confess, really didn’t work for me – Red, White and Blue, sees director Steve McQueen moving back to the kind of material he explored in Mangrove: the rampant racial discrimination experienced by black people in 1980s London. The difference this time around is that the major player here is a black police officer. Once again, it’s based on a true story, that of Leroy Logan (John Boyega), a former research scientist, who, after witnessing the savage beating of his father, Ken (Steve Toussaint), at the hands of two police officers, decides to join the Metropolitan police in the fervent hope that he will be able to improve things from the inside.

Of course, he quickly learns that making such changes is no easy matter and that, once on active duty, he will be unable to count on his white colleagues to back him up in any dangerous situation. But he’s clearly a tenacious individual. Logan stayed in the force until his retirement in 2013 and remains a member of the National Black Police Association.

If this were a Hollywood movie, of course, we’d see Leroy battle his way through appalling odds to emerge at the end, bruised, bloody and victorious. But this is crushingly realistic stuff – the inevitable realisation being that, though things may have improved a little since the 80s, they haven’t improved anything like enough. This story ends pretty much as it starts – with Logan stubbornly refusing to compromise his position.

Boyega is particularly impressive in the lead role – indeed, he dominates this episode and makes it very much his own. A scene where he finally explodes into anger at the callous conduct of his fellow officers is riveting stuff. There’s also a gruffly likeable performance from Toussaint as his father, a man who carries his bottled-up rage around with him like a cross he has to bear.

Next stop, the Brixton Riots. Can’t wait.

4 stars

Philip Caveney