Red, White and Blue
- Emma Simmonds
- 23 November 2020
John Boyega is exceptional in the police-themed third part of Steve McQueen's Small Axe series
'If you are a big tree, we are the small axe,' goes the Jamaican proverb from which Steve McQueen's anthology series takes its name. In the third film, Red, White and Blue, the saying seems especially resonant as one man sets out to combat the entrenched bigotry at the heart of UK policing, to change things from within, in nothing short of an act of self-sacrifice. Fired up with the courage of his character's convictions, John Boyega is on blinding form in the true story of Leroy Logan.
When we first meet Londoner Leroy he's being subjected to what is apparently his first stop and search, as a young boy in school uniform (he's played as a child by Nathan Vidal). His Jamaica-born father Ken (blistering work from Steve Toussaint), who has clearly had years of such harassment, puts a furious end to it. Years later, we see Ken erroneously accosted for obstructing the highway and being badly beaten by two officers when he demonstrates their error. When his now adult son (Boyega) reveals he's leaving his hard-won research scientist position to retrain as a copper, in an attempt to make things better, Ken is understandably mortified. Leroy's pregnant wife Gretl (an excellent Antonia Thomas), by contrast, is staunchly supportive; 'What you are doing is important, so make it count,' she tells him.
What follows is a powerful demonstration of what anyone trying to fix a rotten system is up against, as Leroy goes from the 'golden boy' of the police training academy to the morale-shattering reality of the job. Subjected to racist bullying by colleagues, who go so far as to neglect to provide him with operational backup, his prospects for promotion also seem non-existent under the hostile command of Inspector Willis (Neil Maskell). Leroy has no more luck out on the beat, where he is now viewed as a traitor by many members of the Black community, due to their hatred and suspicion of the force.
This is vital viewing for anyone who doesn't understand where mistrust of the police comes from, and Boyega brilliantly relays the exhaustion of having to rise above horrendous and perpetual provocation. It might be enraging but it is not simply a gruelling watch. Superbly written by McQueen and Courttia Newland, Red, White and Blue is funny, warm and sumptuously shot by Shabier Kirchner, who has worked across the series, as it richly captures the period and Leroy's life with family and friends – playing scrabble, dancing, sharing cooking tips. You'll really fall in love with them all, and there's even a marvellous Star Wars gag. The film makes for a fitting tribute to Logan himself and those like him – people who are brave enough to lead the charge and who get shot down for trying.
Available to watch on BBC One at 9pm on Sun 29 Nov and on iPlayer afterwards.