instagram envelope_alt facebook twitter search youtube_play whatsapp remove external_link loop2 arrow-down2

TV review: The Long Song

Desperately miscast:
Hayley Atwell plays
Caroline, the bored
and entitled sister of
a plantation owner PICTURE: BBC


The Long Song

BBC1 ★★★✩✩

THERE’S so much that’s good, almost great, about The Long Song, not least a fabulously charismatic turn from rising star Tamara Lawrance, that it felt odd to come away from the opening episode of its three-night run feeling rather tuned out.

But there’s something about this adaptation of Andrea Levy’s novel about the final throes of slavery in Jamaica that plays off key.

Let’s start with the great: Lawrance has charisma to spare as Miss July, the daughter of a slave who gets plucked from the roadside as a child to become maid to Caroline, the bored and indulged sister of a plantation owner. The outrageous sense of entitlement, of humans using other humans as possessions, is shocking.

Caroline re-names July Marguerite but Lawrance shows, with a look, a gesture, that July’s independent spirit has not been quashed. As rumours of slave revolt reverberate around Jamaica, the sense of unrest, of changing times, is palpable, longed-for freedom tantalisingly close.

This side of The Long Song’s theme is played out with a fine ear. But in reducing the plantation owners and their henchmen to outlandish and brutish cartoon-like villains, The Long Song lurches from clever nuances, where humour leavens the suffering, to all the subtlety of an oompah band.

Hayley Atwell is desperately miscast as the appalling Caroline, a screaming ninny whose absurd childishness never remotely convinces as a credible character.

She’s not alone: none of the plantation ruling class is presented as anything other than a caricature.

It’s worth tuning in for Lawrance alone and the episode teaser promised that the arrival of a new plantation overseer might offer a little more light and shade in the story-telling. The subject deserves it.