The shining new face portraying the writer wins you over.
“Alex Wheatle” is the fourth chapter of Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” series about a the real-life writer Alex Wheatle, who was in prison for his involvement in the 1981 Brixton riots in London. While the movie doesn’t compare with the other “Small Axe” entries (like “Mangrove” being my favorite, and “Lovers Rock” and “Red, White & Blue” both being poetic) because of how underdeveloped the presentation is, it still ignites flames in the right areas. This is enough to make it a worthy entry.
The actor portraying Alex is nobody you or I have heard of, but he makes a unique introduction to his acting career. His name is Sheyi Cole, and he portrays him with a strong sense of integrity and balanced emotions. You’re able to see his scope on the writer’s life through words and actions. “Actions speak louder than words,” as they say.
When he arrives in prison, he throws a hissy fit over his Rastafarian cellmate Simeon (Robbie Gee) having bowel problems that stinks up their cell. A fight breaks out, and Simeon finishes the fight by telling Alex to reveal his life story and how he got himself in prison to begin with. Eventually, he gives him the inspiration to become a writer (“If you don’t know your past, then you won’t know your future,” he says).
His mother abandoned him as a child, and lives with a cruel white family, until his teens when he makes a new friend named Badger (Khali Best), becomes a weed dealer, and co-founded the Crucial Rocker sound system. That’s when he writes a song about the Brixton riots, and the lyrics match the beats and mood of his world.
“Alex Wheatle” feels too short for us to care about the other characters in Alex’s life, but they do contribute to his life with some real and provocative moments. The movie, itself, wins us over when Cole provides him with expressionism and passion. We see him fighting with people, singing his lyrics, and lying in bed reminiscing on his ambitions and goals. McQueen delivers the goods by choosing the right actor to portray him, and by continuing to express the poetry and hated going on during the time period.
Four entries down on Amazon Prime, and now I have one more to view, and so far, “Small Axe” is an impressive and dangerous series. You need to see how true McQueen is to his material and sources without glamorizing them. His intentions are to make them entertaining and open-minded, and they’re working for me.
Streaming on Amazon Prime