Review by Dan Skip Allen
Alex Wheatle is the latest episode of the Small Axe series of films from acclaimed writer/director Steve McQueen. These films focus on the West Indies community in England. This is the true story of Alex (Sheyi Cole), an award-winning writer.
Alex is a young man brought up in a foster home. He had no drive to succeed or ambition until he found reggae music and djing. When he moved to Brixton, England, he found a home and people he can relate to. He inadvertently ends up involved with the Brixton Riot of 1981 and ends up in prison. This is the defining moment in his life.
As with previous films of the Small Axe series, Alex Wheatle shows the strife and oppression the West Indies community has with the police in England. The music he listens to influences him to create songs of his own that his people can get behind. This doesn't sit well with the local law enforcement. He had become a symbol for his people.
McQueen has used different techniques in all of his Small Axe Films. This time, he uses a framing sequence and a back and forth between the prison Alex is in and the past. He has a cellmate that gets under his skin, Simeon (Robbie Gee). "If you don't know your past, you don't know your future," is a creed he lives by. It is something Alex embraces about himself.
As a novelist, Alex takes his experiences and puts them on paper and pen. This allows him to share the experiences of his friends and the community that has embraced him. He has written fifteen novels to date for the young adult audience. He has become an idol of many youths who read his books growing up.
McQueen does what he has done in previous installments of this series of films. He has tapped into the world these films take place in with the hair, clothes, and production design. The streets and buildings reflect the period this film takes place in. It is probably easier if all the same people are working on every film in the series. That helps give the films a resemblance to one another.
The acting is superb by all the actors playing Alex's friends and compatriots as well as his prison cellmate. All of these films tap into these unique stories within the community, but they all have a unique feel. They do all look similar because of the aesthetic McQueen is going for. Alex Wheatle is another terrific addition to the series.
Alex Wheatle is now streaming on Amazon Prime. New installments of Small Axe stream every Friday.