CHECK OUT Africa Utopia Schedule of Events Wed 31 Aug – Sun 4 Sep

Africa Utopia returns for a fourth time to Southbank Centre to explore what can be learnt and celebrated from modern Africa and the African diaspora. The festival investigates the arts and culture of one of the world’s most dynamic and fast-changing continents and looks at how Africa can lead the ...

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Africa Utopia Returns To Southbank Centre With Comedy, Performance, Talks, Fashion & Music

Africa Utopia returns for a fourth time to Southbank Centre to explore what can be learnt and celebrated from modern Africa and the African diaspora. The festival investigates the arts and culture of one of the world's most dynamic and fast-changing continents and looks at how Africa can lead the ...

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PLEASE VOTE!!! TBB's Founder Akua Gyamfi Shortlisted for a 2016 Back2Black Award!!!!

The 2016 Back2Black takes place at the London BAFTA headquarters Sunday 02 October 2016. The Back2Black Awards celebrates ordinary people from our community who do extraordinary things. This fundraising gala kicks off UK Black History Month in style and is an opportunity to witness some great entertainment and to recognise and ...

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Tara Tijani and Kat Humphrey in NYT's Bitches Photo Credit - Mark Cocksedge

Bola Agbaje's New Play 'Bitches' Forces Us to Address The Conversations Society is Trying Hard to Avoid

As part of their 60th anniversary year the National Youth Theatre has commissioned a new play from award winning playwright Bola Agbaje (Gone Too Far, Off the Endz). Speaking with Ms Agbaje, you get a clear sense of her passion for provoking the uncomfortable conversations we try to avoid. With her play ...

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TBB's Tammy V Speaks to Eme Essien About New Play 'Girls Night Out'...

Eme Essien is an award winning actress whose career spans over 9 years on television and in theatre. With tons of experience and the comedy bug she has taken her one woman show on the road and will share with her audience how a 'Girls Night Out' begins for a ...

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'Hidden Figures': The Big Screen Story Of What Non-Military Black Women Were Doing At NASA During The Space Race!

As 1960s America raced against Russia to put a man in space, NASA found untapped talent in a group of African American female mathematicians. They served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in US. history, quickly rising the ranks of NASA shoulder-to-shoulder with many of history's greatest minds. ...

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Naomie Harris Fuels Awards Buzz Around 'Moonlight' A New Film Which Tackles Black Male Masculinity

It has been a while since a non-sci fi/superhero trailer has caused such a media buzz and early talk of awards-worthiness. But ‪‎Naomie Harris‬' next film has done just that! The 2 minute trailer for the 1980s Miami-set drama '‪‎Moonlight‬' was released on August 11th, accompanied by the announcement that it would ...

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New Kiss FM Grime Show Host Rude Kid Talks Back to TBB’s Albert Yanney

The KISS Network has launched a brand new radio show dedicated to Grime music and is hosted by one of the biggest names in the genre, DJ and producer, Rude Kid.  ‘KISS Grime’ airs on KISS main station every Sunday night from 10pm as the first of a weekly show ...

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(l-r) Nao, J Hus, Gaika, Jahméne Douglas, Audley Harrison

TBB’s Tammy V Takes a Look at the Biggest Tracks Out This Week... Nao; J Hus; Gaika; Jahmene; Audley Harrison

It's so refreshing to see that musically there are so many people from different music backgrounds being represented from the atypical to the not so typical genres including pop and electro. Black British artists are falling into all categories and shining. Check out some music released this past week... Kick-starting with my favourite ...

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Top - Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as DJ Larry Levan

Bottom - Legendary DJ Larry Levan

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith Cast As Legendary Garage Music DJ in New Film 'Paradise Garage'!

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith‬ joins the list of black British talent impressing US casting agents to entrust them with iconic characters from African-American history. August 9th saw King Street Productions announce that Holdbrook-Smith has been cast in a key role at the heart of 'Paradise Garage' (working title). The film tells the story of ...

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London Hughes

Funny Girl London Hughes Speaks to TBB About Her Career & Latest Show 'No Filter'

According to London Hughes there’s a new generation of young exciting females that have a lot to say for themselves and they need a voice in comedy. Yes the UK has Sarah Milican and Miranda Hart, but none of them represent young black females and their everyday life experiences – ...

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Tomisin Adepeju

Tomisin Adepeju's 'The Good Son' Continues Short Film Festival Domination (including some TBB Favourites)!

‎Tomisin Adepeju‬'s 'The Good Son' (Omo Dada) played at ‪Iyare Igiehon‬'s Spring S.O.U.L film festival to an enthusiastic reception and is nominated for a short film award at September's British Urban Film Festival (BUFF), along with Louis Lagayette's “For His Sake"; Alexander Thomas's TBB Favourite “Beverley” and Vicki Kisner's “Sheila”. It has ...

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#TBBreviews ‘They Drink It In The Congo’ @ The Almeida. Finds it a little hard To Swallow

they-drink-it-in-the-congo-interview-876-body-image-1470755626-size_1000‘They Drink It In The Congo’ reunites playwright Adam Brace with director Michael Longhurst, who last teamed up on the well-received Iraq War-set ‘Stovepipe’ (2009). Originally commissioned by the National Theatre and developed at the NT Studio, their latest collaboration, set in London and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is staged in-the-round at the Almeida, and was anticipated to be in safe hands by the mainstream media.

TBB attended knowing that there was some serious established and emerging black British talent in the cast: Richie Campbell (Luis), Sule Rimi (Oudry), ‎Richard Pepple (Victor), Anna Maria Nabirye (Anne-Marie), ‎Sidney Cole (Maurice/ Pastor Joshua), Tosin Cole (William/ Samo/ Oliver/ Kevin), ‎Joan Iyiola (Kat/ Alice/ Patience/ Suzanne), and ‎Pamela Nomvete (Nou Nou/ Ira/ Mama Beatrice).

Highly-strung Stef (Fiona Button), Kenyan-born to a wealthy white farmer now working in London, is willingly tasked with raising awareness of the war atrocities in the DRC. The event is to be ‘Congo Voice’ - a festival celebrating the country through music, song, dance and spoken word. Stef pulls together a planning committee consisting of rival colleague Jenny (Kirsty Besterman), Huw (Roger Evans) and PR specialist (also ex-boyfriend, still carrying a torch), Tony (Richard Goulding). Insisting that it must be made up of at least one third Congolese, she recruits colleague and Congo National Anne-Marie (Nabirye), several other Congolese and one Sudanese.

It all seems straightforward until the first meeting, when Stef reveals that they must avoid making any explicit political statements. The event will be “a festival to help Congo which can’t say what’s wrong with Congo”. This particularly stirs up the menacing anti-DRC-government militia group, Les Combattants de Londres, against the festival. They accuse the West of supporting the President’s brutal regime and they believe the festival condones the President. At the mere mention of Les Combattants, several Congolese committee members abandon the meeting.

Things go from bad to worse, as Stef becomes ever more frantic to stage the event, cycling through earnestness, self-importance, despair and desperation in the face of Les Combattants making threats; a poor showing of London-based Congolese artists, which does include an excellent trio (Joseph Roberts, Alan Weekes and Crispin Robinson) who play original music inspired by the region; and the white corporate sponsors, reluctant to have any Congolese planning input at all, inevitably losing patience with everyone. There are some funny moments and some clever dialogue, but, the humour is mainly limited to the first half. Goulding’s Tony carries most of the light relief and he does so admirably. Brace even manages a light moment at Les Combattants HQ, involving the making of a video message to the President.

Some interesting creative choices have been made here. The African characters speak in accented English, switching to plain English to represent speaking in their native Lingala or Swahili, which appear as scrolling surtitles above the stage. It works. The superbly versatile Sule Rimi, he of the joyous pink suit in the poster, prowls the stage, a declarative, yet ethereal ringmaster of sorts. He is absolutely rivetting throughout, representing the several faces of Congo and what is really at the heart of this play and haunts the gradually unravelling Stef.

Richie  Campbell and Tosin-Cole  Photo credit - Marc Brenner

Richie Campbell and Tosin-Cole
Photo credit – Marc Brenner

Some have described it as guilt – Stef’s ‘white guilt’ over a brief and impotent experience on volunteering to help aid workers in the DRC years before; of ‘colonial guilt’ – there is none here; and of ‘survivor guilt’ – both Stef’s and the London Congolese, who have escaped to relative safety. It is staged to look more like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which, as happens here, worsens if not dealt with. However, if it is PTSD, it suggests the most disturbing thing about this play – that Stef, having only witnessed the aftermath of a brutal attack, deserves to have her story told over the possibly more traumatised Congolese who lived through numerous of those same attacks and worse, who might have been forced to commit atrocities themselves and watch loved ones die. The play acknowledges such incidents, but, extraordinarily, never ventures to consider the victims in the aftermath of those horrific experiences or their motivation for acting as they do! Most of the African characters feel poorly drawn, under-developed, and pretty insubstantial. The 8 black British cast members, playing some 17 different characters, admirably do as much as they can with the material.

But, the apparent disregard for the worth of the African characters is evident in Stef’s frustration when Congolese begin to pull out, portrayed as easily frightened and fickle. It is evident as she recklessly pushes on, trying to save the festival motivated by an ulterior motive. It is most evident when, finally attempting to assuage her escalating anxiety, she goes in search of the object of her neurosis. She then crosses a line of decency in her perverse request, in my opinion, reducing the physically and psychologically devastating experience of another to a quick remedy for her ills. She is altruism wrapped up in the exact opposite – self-interest, and it is at the expense of the issues the play apparently seeks to highlight.

Richie Campbell, as leader of Les Combattants, Luis, gives an outstanding performance, delivering a powerful, disconcerting monologue on the crimes and collusion of the West in the oppression and suffering of the Congolese people. Nabirye’s Anne-Marie has a small parallel storyline, but it really is lost in the increasing chaos of Stef’s predicament.

The only person who really seems to go on a journey is Tony (Goulding). Representing, I suppose, British complacency, he has the misfortunate of getting involved with something he knows very little about, except, he admits, “I know what they drink…” Despite having to deliver that line, Goulding manages to hold on to your empathy. What starts as a way to spend time with Stef actually does open his eyes to what it all should have been about. He is cognizant of the effect Stef’s plans are having on all around her – especially the Congolese.

Rimi, Button, Goulding and CoAlmeida’s Artistic Director Rupert Goold introduced this, and several other new plays as, “… urgent and anarchic… about the increasingly small, fragmented world we live in. Playful in approach and epic in form, they take us on international journeys, exploring our dependency on limited resources and the costs of modern living.” He invites audiences to come along and meet the “… vivid, subversive spirit of the characters that will be seen on the Almeida stage this year.” Many of the mainstream reviews agree, applauding this play’s cleverness.

This might be a good time to remember the infamous photograph by tragic South African photojournalist Kevin Carter during the 1993 famine in Sudan. A starving child struggles toward a UN food camp as a vulture patiently awaits her death. He reportedly took 20 minutes to frame up the shot before waving the bird away. He came under heavy criticism for ‘not helping’ after it was published in the New York Times and the question as to whether the little girl reached the food camp remained unanswered by the journalist. He didn’t know. However, it also won him the 1994 coveted Pullitzer Prize for feature photography. He had spent years documenting the atrocities of Apartheid, which he vehemently opposed. Yet, just three months after accepting the prize, he committed suicide, aged 33 and with mounting debt. His suicide included the observation, “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners.”

Whilst the writer of this play has piled on the issues and presents the difficulties of raising awareness amongst the British, the lack of substance to most of his African characters relegates these crimes against humanity, and the whole point of writing the play, to a mere backdrop to a Twenty Twelve/W1A style satirical comedy, and that makes it culturally insensitive, full stop. That said, the satire doesn’t seem to survive past the first ⅔ of the first half anyway – almost the demarcation of 2 different plays! With both Aimé Césaire’s 1966 ‘A Season In The Congo’ and Lynn Nottage’s 2007 Ruined so recently staged in London, there were real life and fictional African characters that could have better informed some of the characters in this play.

As for any resonance with the lyrics of one of the most annoying adverts of the 80s (with a cast of cartoon animals, no less), in my mind, it might represent an attempt at the elusive satire – something that the white gaze immediately associates with the Congo, but has absolutely nothing to do with the Congo or its troubles. I am inclined to think it was an ill-judged choice of a title, an ill-judged choice for a satire and, in 2016, an ill-judged focus for the story.

I still urge people to go see this play. If you know nothing of the history of the region, it is a place to start, since there is no obvious poetic license taken with the facts. The staging is clever and highly evocative, if a little difficult to follow at times, and the music is fantastic. The committed cast deserve our support for the excellent work they have produced here, particularly Rimi, Campbell and Goulding. We all applauded with an enthusiastic, well-deserved ovation, allowing the entire cast a couple of bows.

They Drink it In The Congo is booking until October 1st 2016. For tickets, go to The Almedia Theatre website (Click Here)

 

 

Review by @DescantDeb for The British Blacklist

TBB’s Marianne Miles speaks to Brotherhood’s leading lady Shanika Warren-Markland

Shanika Warren-Markland

Shanika Warren-Markland

Shanika Warren-Markland is one of the UK many actresses who (in my opinion) are underrated and under appreciated. 

She first came to us as fast talking no-nonsense Kayla in Adulthood (2008), and has since gone on to star in many successful UK productions in including Gone too Far (2013) and continued her working relationship with director Noel Clarke starring in 4321 in 2010...

Often cast as the teenaged protagonist or the sex symbol, Shanika’s latest role is a step up in maturity as a step-mother and wife of the troubled Sam in Noel Clarke’s new film – the last in the Kidult / Adulthood franchise –  Brotherhood.

 

It was great to see you back in Brotherhood although your character is a huge change from the brash, loud talking girl we saw in Adulthood. Was that change appealing to you

Firstly, I never thought it was going to happen, I had always heard that there was never going to be a third film, there had been rumours that were always shut down. So when this came up and I got called into a meeting with Noel and Jason I was really surprised, and excited to see where the story would go. We’re like the older generation in this film, in relation to the younger cast members and its interesting what happens with my characters storyline. I thought it was great to have this family element and for me personally It was appealing to play a mature character, a woman in a relationship. I’ve never played anyone remotely close to my age, so that was a draw for me as well as the whole legacy of the Hood Movies and retuning to a character which i’ve never done before.

I was surprised to see your character Kayla in a relationship with arch enemy Sam, how did that happen?

In Adulthood I was Moony’s girlfriend. I do wonder how many people will have questions about that. We shot a small reference to how that all happened which was cut from the film unfortunately. For the generation who haven’t seen the other films it may go over their heads but it wasn’t a huge part of the script. Noel and I got together and figured out a storyline, basically Kayla & Mooney were in University and still quite young and just outgrew each other. It wasn’t that Sam stole Kayla from Mooney or anything like that. Just years down the line they met out on the town, and she knew of him but this was the new improved non-violent version which she liked and she was willing to give him a second chance.

Kayla is the strong female lead. Do you think filmmakers should consciously include stronger parts for women in urban dramas?

Yes, definitely and I am grateful that I had a strong part to play. Even watching it, my feminist side was jumping inside because of all the half naked girls. I don’t necessarily agree with it but I see how it’s a part of developing the flashy storyline, it fit with the seedy criminal underbelly. I do like the fact that Noel cast strong female roles like mine, Ashanti and Sam’s mother’s character as he has done in the past, of course I played Kerrys in 4321 which was a female centred film. Noel has received criticism about his female characters, but it’s not something that he doesn’t take on board, he does ascertain whether that criticism is valid and if he can use it to change things about his filmmaking so he is making a conscious effort which is something I applaud him for. I was having a think when I read the script and I applied The Bechdel Test to see if there are female characters who talk to each other about topics other than men, I think Brotherhood just about got a pass.

NOTE: The Bechdel test (/ˈbɛkdəl/ bek-dəl) asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.

You also starred in Gone Too Far. I absolutely hated your character Armani. What was it like playing the Bitch?

Shanika Warren-Markland as 'Armani' and Adelayo Adedayo as 'Paris' in  Gone Too Far (2013)

Shanika Warren-Markland as ‘Armani’ and Adelayo Adedayo as ‘Paris’ in
Gone Too Far (2013)

The fact that you hated her makes me so happy! I went to see it when it was a play, I remember sitting in the audience saying I want to hit this girl, why is she like this? So when people who’ve seen the film say they want to hit me now, I know my performance worked. It’s a lot of fun playing the Bitch, it’s fun to do and say things that I would never dream of in real life. Bola & Destiny did an amazing job with the film it was great for me to be a part of something I’ve watched myself and also to work with such a strong female team. This was my first time working with a female director, I’ve since built an amazing friendship with Bola she has become one of the people in the industry I can turn to and talk to about things. It was a wonderful project to be involved with, I think it went under the radar which is part of the trouble and strife of the British film industry. Someone Tweeted the other day that Armani said to Malachi Kirby’s character in the film “you could be Kunta Kinte for all I care” and three years later Malachi is now playing Kunta Kinte in Roots, I love that!

You are featured in an emotive sex scene in Brotherhood and also had one in 4321. Are you comfortable filming them?

I am comfortable with it. I’ve never done full frontal nudity, that would be another thing to consider but I don’t rule it out. At the end of the day it’s just your body, as long as it’s not gratuitous, like just in the background naked, just a prop. But if it’s part of my storyline, then I don’t see the problem. I don’t see it as something that has to be hidden as long as it’s done well, and that doesn’t mean romance and flowers, because the sex scene in Brotherhood is not that at all, it’s raw emotion. I do get nervous beforehand, this was the second love scene I’ve done on a Noel Clarke film and it’s always a closed set, everyone is really respectful, there are only the necessary people around. I’m not sure if it’s a British thing, but we have a weird relationship with sex on screen and always try to hush it up and pretend it shouldn’t be there.

The Lesbian sex scene in 4321 has been described by some, as gratuitous, obviously you don’t agree…

I wouldn’t describe it as that at all, the only thing I didn’t like about the scene was my bra. You actually can’t see anything, there’s not that much going on, just some kissing, it’s just shot really well. I think people jump on that because it was two girls. It’s great that Noel was open to putting that relationship out there, one we don’t see often especially with young black girls.

You have a blog on tumblr – Shanika Says – which is a brilliant read, your last post was on celibacy, did all the fake sex in your movies aid the decision to abstain from sex in real life?

That’s so funny. No they were not associated with each other at all in any way. I have British Caribbean parents and I grew up in a household where my mother was completely open when talking about sex. I’m all for women owning their sexuality and having the right to choose when and who they want to have it with. Its something that I’m fine about, but that doesn’t mean that I’m having sex all the time. I was only celibate for a year and a half.

There has been a lot of talk about Diversity in the industry this year, do those issues affect you at all?

Yes, it’s still an issue and something I am forever fighting for. I’m a huge supporter of Act for Change, people who are trying to raise awareness about it. I remember seeing a poster for Pride, Prejudice and Zombies the Jane Austen remake. They had taken this classic story and remade it for another world, not sticking to the original storyline and the poster was all white actors. I thought, where is the inclusion of mainstream society? The whole argument about making things historically accurate is lazy to me anyway, but they couldn’t even fall back on that, why do the zombies have to be white? It’s not reflective of the society we have so I’m all for championing people who do have diverse casts.

Are you an Actress or a Black Actress?

when_fragile_things_breakI would class myself as a black actress. I would love to be afforded the opportunity to be seen the same as all other actresses of course but the world is not there yet. I think it is important in terms of representation as well. I want young black and mixed raced girls to see me in parts and think ‘I can do that as well’, so I don’t want to just completely rule out my colour because I know representation is important for a lot of people.

Is there a Sorority of black actress in the Uk who meet up and support each other?

Not a sorority but I think we do in our own way. When my white friends go to auditions they say it can be really bitchy and competitive and they don’t really talk to each other, whereas we will chat in the waiting room and even though we all want to get the role, we still are glad if any one of us gets it.  You do tend to see the same actors going for the parts. Even if it’s just acknowledged on Twitter, it’s always nice to get that support.

You have a long history working with the Talawa Theatre company…

Every year Talawa do a young people’s scheme over the summer for 4-6 weeks. The kids get to work with directors and put on a professional show at the end of it. I did that a few years ago now, I made some really good friends from that show, actually Michaela Cole was there my year. We worked together then and have been friends ever since. We wrote our play Crunch together which explored identity and talked about what its like to be a young black British person. We put together this really cool show and the following year we got to take it to a film festival in South Africa which was amazing, especially after we performed and got a standing ovation. I’ve been really close to Talawa since then, supporting their productions. A bunch of us including Michaela went to see the summer show last year, I’ve kept a really close relationship with their staff.

Can we expect any other self-penned projects from you in the near future?

I have written a short film called When Fragile Things Break which was seen at a few festivals and got a nice reception. I wrote and directed that. I’ve dipped my toe in but not perfected it yet, I will take my time and write more. I’m very inspired by Michaela since writing Crunch. I went to see Chewing Gum when it was a one woman show and even that was incredible. She’s just wrapped season two of the TV series, which I have a tiny cameo in. To see how far she’s come with her writing, a black woman creating non-stereotypical roles and doing so much amazing stuff and going to the BAFTA’s in her Kente dress, I love it. It’s very inspiring.

You are one the the best known black British actors internationally, are you happy with your career thus far?

No, I don’t think any actor is to be honest, I think we always want more. I’m always sitting here saying I can do more, I haven’t done enough or my career isn’t where it should be. So it’s always nice when someone congratulates me and reminds me of how much I’ve done and the great projects i’ve been involved in that people do enjoy and I have got some great stuff on my CV.

Where does your future lie, here or competing for roles in the US where there is more choice?

I am always back and forth. I would love to go to America, but also I think when I watch some incredible British TV & Films, we do such great stuff here. I would love to have that career in the UK But there are more roles in America, they are a step ahead in terms of giving different roles to black actors and that variety is not here yet, which I’m hoping will change. I can’t say I don’t understand why actors go to America and also see myself doing that but I’d love to have success in my own country as well.

Brotherhood is Noel Clark’s legacy, would you be happy if Kayla became a part of your legacy as well?

Ambition dictates that I would love to be known for a variety of roles, but Adulthood was my first ever film role and it’s something that has followed me to this day so I am glad that I do have that and am able to be a part of the trilogy, starring in two of the films is really cool for me. It was my first break into film and it’s done so well, I am really proud of what it’s achieved.

 

Brotherhood is in cinemas from today Monday 29th August 2016. Check your local cinema for listings.

Interview by Marianne Miles / @MissMMiles for The British Blacklist

New 8-Part ITV Drama ‘Victoria’ Charts The Making of The Queen Who Reigned During The ‘Scramble For Africa’.

victoriaAt 19, Daisy Goodwin went to her university library to research her ‘Media and the Monarchy’ paper. What she found was a treasure trove of real-time commentary from the mind of, until recently, Britain’s longest serving monarch – certainly the most powerful in terms of empire. Goodwin found the diaries of Princess Alexandrina Victoria – Queen Victoria, who she became aged just 18.

Goodwin realised, we actually know very little of Queen Victoria. In comparison to Elizabeth I (8 films, an opera, 5 TV miniseries, 3 documentaries); and Elizabeth II, via the media, one film, and numerous documentaries. Of Victoria, there have really only been 2 films – Mrs Brown (1997) starring Judy Dench as a depressed, mourning queen, alongside Billy Connolly who helped her to heal; and The Young Victoria (2009) starring Emily Blunt in her courtship and marriage to Rupert Friend’s Prince Albert.

We do know she had a husband, Albert whom she loved dearly, mourned for 40 years and built a memorial and concert hall to honour his memory. We know she bore him 9 children. Together, they set many of the customs we still follow today, including the Christmas tree at Christmas. What we didn’t know was her vivacity, spirit and lust for life as a teenager; the nature of her relationship with Lord Melbourne – a British Whig statesman and Tory-rival, Home Secretary (1830–1834) and Prime Minister (1834 and 1835–1841); the intensity of the mentoring and stewardship he provided the young Queen as her first private secretary; how she fell in love; which scandals beset the monarchy at the dawn of her reign and beyond; and how she made her mark, maturing with that vein of steel, yet never losing her humour or conscience until her heart was broken.

Goodwin felt compelled to write the novel to re-introduce Britain to Queen Victoria. During that process, she thought it would make a great screenplay. She met with producer Damien Timmer of Mammoth Screen and then ITV got on board. Together, they created something rather special, as episode 1 – “Doll 123″, demonstrated. It starts with a strong sense of the claustrophobic and sheltered life the young princess had led – still sharing a bedroom with her mother the over-protective and over-bearing Duchess of Kent (Catherine H. Fleming), who insisted on speaking her native German; her every move dictated by the manipulative, ambitious advisor to the Duchess, Sir John Conroy (Paul Rhys), who often made fun of her 4′ 11″ height.

Into this, on a night in 1837, a messenger arrives with the news that the King is dead. Everyone understands what this means – particularly Alexandrina and Conroy. She sees it as freedom and a chance to do her duty as taught to her by her late father come at last. He sees it as the opportunity of a lifetime to seize power of the highest order through a teenage puppet Queen. The King’s brother and Parliament expect a regency, and the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne is the first to congratulate the new Queen. Their first meeting is not what he expects – she is young, independent, inflexible, warm, loyal, guileless… Urged to choose a name befitting a Queen, instead of the foreign-sounding Alexandrina, she chooses her middle name, Victoria – unfashionable and little known at the time.

Victoria is brilliantly cast. From Jenna Coleman (Dancing on The Edge, 2013, Dr Who, 2012-15, Me Before You, 2016) as Victoria, through Rufus Sewell (A Knight’s Tale, 2001, The Holiday) as Lord Melbourne to Tom Hughes (Trinity, 2009, Silk) as Prince Albert. For all the reasons I never really took to Coleman as the 13th Doctor Who Companion, I warmed to her here. Even when she makes mistakes – insults the aristocracy and brings scandal to Buckingham Palace; grows close to the much older Melbourne, bearing rumours about their relationship; and lives in daily contention with her overprotective mother, you never waver from your willing her to succeed. This is a career-making role for the 30 year old actress, she fully embraces the conundrum of youth as a strength and a weakness, of having optimism without fear, of having the absolute duty of the Queen of Great Britain and inheriting a monarchy in crisis.

Goodwin credits much of the dialogue and all of the best lines to the Queen’s diaries, and she insists that there has been very little dramatic license taken with historical facts. I am personally incredibly gratified to see Sewell in a role I doubt another actor could have inhabited in quite the same appealing and complex way. He is quite magnificent.

Yet, I found myself a little conflicted.

Image sourced from http://slideplayer.com/

Image sourced from http://slideplayer.com/

Across its 8 parts, Victoria follows the early years of her life, including her meeting and courtship with Prince Albert, known as the greatest king Britain never had. It is entirely possible that, should it earn the kind of viewing figures commanded by Downton Abbey, it could have several more series commissioned. She was a long-lived Queen!

Still, the feeling I got from the first episode and the good-natured discussion of the press conference, was that this first series might tend to focus on the Queen’s most personal dramas. It would certainly satisfy Goodwin’s determination for Britain to get to know arguably its most transformative monarch. But, what of the Empire and subsequent Commonwealth? How are we, its Diaspora, to relate to this diminutive Queen under whose rule most of our ancestral countries were swept, only to be subsequently divvied up in a most careless and far-reaching way come the mid-1900s. The repercussions are still being felt today!

Under Victoria, the Empire increasingly absorbed Africa. She inherited a realm in which the Slave Trade Act of 1807 which outlawed the slave trade, not slavery, passed in 1808, and was 29 years old; and the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, was only 4. South Africa and Sierra Leone had been territories since 1808, Gold Coast (Ghana) since 1821. In December 1838, just a year after her ascension, the year of her Coronation, Enslaved men, women, and children in the British Empire finally became fully free after the 5 year period of enforced apprenticeship starting in 1833. 1838 was also the year that the Battle of Blood River occurred on the banks of the Ncome River between the Zulu Nation and Voortrekkers (Pioneers), which is today the KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. This was the first of numerous battles fought on African soil against ‘colonists’ and ‘settlers’.

Sarah Forbes Bonetta; Portrait of Ira Aldridge; Peter Jackson

Sarah Forbes Bonetta; Portrait of Ira Aldridge; Peter Jackson

Whilst the Victorian age was a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military change within the United Kingdom, it was also a time of the swiftest expansion of the Empire, particularly in Africa, since it was rich in resources that were ‘not being used’. 13 more regions were added as part of the European Land Grab, known as the Scramble for Africa‘, all over the continent from the mid 1800s until the end of the era in 1901. The 1884 Berlin Conference was the forum in which European countries with ‘interests’ in Africa simply divided it amongst themselves. Britain had already acquired Zanzibar (part of Tanzania) possibly in the 1850s, Bechuanaland (Botswana) in 1868 and South West Africa (Namibia) in 1878. After the Berlin Conference, more were added: British Somaliland (Somalia) 1884; Basutoland (Lesotho) 1884; Nigeria 1885; Kenya 1885; British East Africa (Kenya) 1888; Gambia 1888; Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) 1889; Tanganyika (Tanzania) 1890; Nyasaland (Malawi) 1893; Uganda 1894; and Sudan 1898. British Cameroon (Cameroon) was not acquired until 1914.

Once vaccines were engineered for the worst of the insect-borne diseases, such as malaria, colonies were increasingly established. It was actually disastrous for much of the rest of the world. Africa had produced the first humans, created art for millenia, developed universities as early as the 11th century and trade with Asia for centuries. But regular contact with Europeans beginning in the 15th century and, of course, the slave trade meant that ancient tribal traditions were lost or abandoned, particularly in the south and west. Treaties on slavery abolition were still being negotiated throughout Victoria’s reign by all of the European powers. New African states, many of which were created on a power base of guns were still abolishing slavery well into the 1900s, Mauritania being the last in 1981.

Then, of course, as a result of the slave trade, a Diaspora was created. There were Africans who lived in Britain – Victorian Africans like Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge, Sara Forbes Bonetta of Brighton, 1862; orphaned Ethiopian Prince Dejazmatch Alamayou Tewodros, adopted by Capt. Tristram Speedy who died in 1879. There were also Africans who toured Britain in 1891-93 and performed for Victoria at Osbourne House – the African Choir of South Africa.

But, somehow, I think the politics will all be condensed into the odd comment or Question in Parliament, and concern military losses, since Victoria never set foot on African soil. I doubt that this is the production to incorporate strong Victorian African character images and finally admit that free Africans were part of the British population BEFORE the Windrush.

Still, Victoria is a wonderful, cinematic series for the small screen in the greatest tradition of British period dramas, and will have to be enjoyed as such.

It would be interesting to know just what Queen Victoria wrote about our ancestors in her journals….

Victoria airs Sundays 9pm on ITV 1 for 7 weeks, as part 2 airs tonight.

Words by @DescantDeb

Reggie Yates Returns to North America For BBC 3’s “Reggie Yates: Life And Death In Chicago”

reggie_yatesContinuing to earn respect as an award-winning immersive documentarian, Reggie Yates follows up his last 2-part ‘Reggie Yates: Worst Weeks’ mini-series. In June, BBC 3 broadcast ‘Reggie Yates in A Texan Jail’, and ‘Reggie Yates in the Mexican Drug War’, both filmed last March, in which he spent intense periods of time asking questions as ‘The Insider’ – he allowed himself to be incarcerated in Bexar County Jail and he ‘joined’ the Mexican army!

Now, BBC 3 has greenlit his latest unscripted documentary, “Reggie Yates: Life and Death in Chicago”, due to premiere during ‘Black History Month’ – that’s October to TBB alums. It is brought to you from Sundog Pictures, directed by Toby Trackman and commissioned by BBC Three Controller, Damian Kavanagh, and Commissioning Editor, Documentaries, Jamie Balment.

Yates travels to the American mid-West to investigate the unprecedented rise in gun crime in President Obama’s adopted hometown of Chicago. This year, shootings are up more than 88%, pushing Chicago’s murder rate up by 72%! 2015 showed only a 12.5% increase on the previous year with 468 murders.
With many of the victims young African American men, Yates asks, “So, who is to blame?”

He said, “Life and Death in Chicago’ might just be the strongest film I’ve made yet, it’s an incredible personal journey and unfolding narrative. With the realities of black-on-black violence and police brutality an unfortunate reality for Chicago, this I feel is a film that tells a story we’re aware of from the perspective of the people.”

BBC Three Controller, Damian Kavanagh, said; “I can’t praise Reggie highly enough, ‘Life and Death In Chicago’ is another exceptional documentary Reggie has made with BBC Three, and with this he is taking it to the next level.”

Executive Producer for Sundog Pictures, Sam Anthony, said “Making such an important film at a time when all eyes are on America- and Obama’s legacy- was a real opportunity to make what I think is our most ambitious Reggie Yates film yet.”

Reggie Yates is also credited as Associate Producer, alongside producer Becky Read, Executive Producers Dov Freedman and Sam Anthony.

BBC 3 have also commissioned the 6-part “American High School”, filmed over a year in a South Carolina High School, revealing life through the eyes of young African Americans, providing UK audiences with a unique insight into how it really feels to be young and black in America today. It will also be broadcast in October.

 

Words by @DescantDeb

Idris Elba Semi-Pro Boxing Match to Be Aired as Part Of 3-Part Doc For Discovery Networks

Idris Elba with Emilio Correa of the Cuban National team at the Rafael Trejo boxing gym, July 23, 2016 – Havana, Cuba. Image by Angel Valentin.

Idris Elba with Emilio Correa of the Cuban National team at the Rafael Trejo boxing gym, July 23, 2016 – Havana, Cuba. Image by Angel Valentin.

So, just after we reported that Idris Elba would be taking on his first semi-professional boxing opponent on August 24th. Well, it turns out there will be more to come!

“Idris Elba: Fighter” is a Discovery Networks UK commission, as a follow up to the previously aired four-part series “Idris Elba No Limits”, in which he attempted to gain proficiency in some of the world’s toughest speed disciplines of rally driving, street racing, aerobatics and power boating. His aim was to master not only the discipline of racing, but also the engineering, science and history behind it. He then participated in some of the most competitive sporting events on both land and air.

For this new 3-part documentary, Elba puts himself through the physically and mentally demanding training to become a professional kickboxer, filming in the UK, Cuba, Japan, South Africa and Thailand. It will culminate in a no-holds-barred bout with a seasoned fighter.

We know that it was whilst preparing for his role as Nelson Mandela, himself a boxer, that Elba realised it was possible. “It has been a lifelong ambition of mine to fight professionally. Entering the ring to further test myself as a human being is a challenge I have been looking to take on for quite some time,” Elba stated.

Over the course of the series, he receives mentoring from former world champions, trainers and coaches, as well as utilising unorthodox training methods and regimens from all over the world to increase his chances for the main event. “I’m taking on the toughest… challenges of my life for this new Discovery TV series. The extreme challenges take me right out of my comfort zone as I compete against the best….”

President of Content, Discovery Networks International, Marjorie Kaplan, said, “This raw yet intimate series will show a side of Idris that viewers and fans won’t get from his spectacular film work…. From East London to the Far East and the Caribbean, he’ll explore strength, stamina and spirituality through a range of martial arts and their fascinating histories. We’re absolutely thrilled that Idris has chosen Discovery to tell his story and journey in the right way.”

The ultimate fight that he’s training for, will take place in October of this year. The series is produced by Shine North and Elba’s Green Door Pictures.

UK and USA air dates are sometime early in 2017 on the Discovery channel.

 

Words by @DescantDeb

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