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The Long Song (TV Series Review)


The Series


A 2018 BBC original series that gives a very dramatic account of the end of slavery in Jamaica and one that receives an excellent screenplay, direction, and cast. The sense of historical events is deftly conveyed and becomes quite relevant to our times.

Masterpiece: The Long Song (2018) Key ArtOn January 31, 2021, PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channel will premiere The Long Song, Sarah Williams’ three-episode adaptation of Andrea Levy’s novel with the same title.

The Long Song is set in 1830s Jamaica as the island is nearing the end of its centuries-long history of slavery.  The part-time narrator is the young slave July (Tamara Lawrance) and the storyline follows her life from childhood (Kara-Lee Fernandes) to old age (Dona Croll). July’s mother Kitty (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) was raped by one of the slave masters who denies the act and she is named after the month in which she was born.

Widow Caroline Mortimer (Hayley Atwell) owns the Amity plantation, but its production of sugar cane has declined, as she and her brother John Howarth (Leo Bill) struggle to make ends meet. Caroline puts on a lavish Christmas dinner for a small group of their British neighbors in hopes that she will improve her prospects for getting remarried. When July, now called “Marguerite,” begins to work for Caroline, she gets wind of a potential slave uprising during the Christmas holidays. All over the island, groups of slaves start burning the sugar cane on the plantations and this uprising creates temporary chaos. Amity’s great house has been temporarily abandoned as Caroline gets driven into town for her safety. July considers eloping with the freed slave Nimrod (Jordan Bolger). Alone in the Amity great house, July and Nimrod have sex in the master bedroom. Suddenly, the hapless Howarth enters and the young couple who have hidden under the bed watch him commit suicide. Soldier Tam Dewar (Gordon Brown) catches the pair and shoots Nimrod, but July is saved when Kitty rushes in and stabs him in the back.

July seeks shelter in a nearby slave camp, but she and Kitty are apprehended and about to be hanged.  Once again, July is spared and returns to Caroline’s estate to become its housekeeper. As the first episode concludes, abolitionist Robert Goodwin (Jack Lowden) has ridden up to the gate and catches the eye of Caroline Mortimer. Not surprisingly, he will become her love interest in the subsequent two episodes.

The Long Song deals with the main issues of the era as covered in the novel: colonialism, racism and the often-abusive treatment of slaves. The impact of these issues was not lost on the British home government and two years after the series begins, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed signaling the eventual end of this inhumane institution. Director Mahalia Belo makes Sarah Williams’ screenplay absolutely spring to life. The period costumes and sets help to create an authentic appearing picture of what life was like for the slaves and their owners. The performances by leads are simply outstanding. Atwell is a quintessential nasty but helpless class-conscious English woman who has been scarred by widowhood at a young age. Lawrance portrays the clever young slave with great instinct for self-preservation, while Lowden is the highly principled young man bent on righting centuries of wrong.  Although the issue of slavery is far from new, the revisiting of the wrongs visited upon enslaved peoples makes this series quite relevant for today’s audiences. One of the better shows that I have seen this season and can highly recommend it to lovers of historical dramas as only the Brits can craft them.

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Masterpiece: The Long Song will premiere on the Masterpiece Prime Video Channel on January 31, 2021.

  • Show Creator: Sarah Williams
  • Original Release Date: 18 December 2018 (UK)
  • Streaming Channel: PBS | Masterpiece Prime Video Channel
  • Ep. Run Time: 60-65 Mins.
  • No. Eps.: 3
  • Studios & Distributors: British Broadcasting Corporation | Heyday Films | NBC Universal Television | Masterpiece
  • Rating Certificate: TV-PG

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A 2018 BBC original series that gives a very dramatic account of the end of slavery in Jamaica and one that receives an excellent screenplay, direction, and cast. The sense of historical events is deftly conveyed and becomes quite relevant to our times.The Long Song (TV Series Review)