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Small Axe - Five Films by Steve McQueen - The Criterion Collection

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This title will be released on April 25, 2023. Pre-order now.
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    This disc has not yet been reviewed. The following information has been provided by the distributor.

Director: Steve McQueen
Plot Synopsis:

With the five films that make up his Small Axe anthology, director Steve McQueen offers a richly evocative panorama of West Indian life in London from the 1960s through the ’80s—a time defined for the community by the terror of police violence, the empowering awakening of political consciousness, and the ecstatic escape of a vibrant reggae scene. Ranging in tone from the tenderly impressionistic to the devastatingly clear-eyed, these powerfully performed portraits of Black resistance, joy, creativity, and collective action—all sumptuously shot by Shabier Kirchner—form a revolutionary counterhistory of mid-twentieth-century Britain at a transformational moment.



Steve McQueen’s multistrand anthology of West Indian immigrant life in London opens in the late 1960s with this stirring ensemble film. In a Caribbean restaurant, a group of Black activists, intellectuals, and ordinary people converge and unite in struggle against incessant police harassment, leading to an explosive showdown on the streets and a courtroom drama that challenges the racist power structures of British society. Based on real events, this is a passionate vision of community as a form of resistance, performed by a dynamic cast (led by Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright, and Malachi Kirby) and bolstered by McQueen’s eye for vivid sensory detail.

2020 • 133 minutes • Color/B&W • 5.1 surround • 2.39:1 aspect ratio




Suffused with the intoxicating sounds of reggae, dub, and lovers rock, the second installment in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series unfolds over the course of one rapturous night into dawn in early-1980s West London, as a young woman (the luminous Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) sneaks out to attend a house party. As the alternately languorous and ecstatic rhythms pulse from a homemade sound system, romance sparks on the dance floor, small human dramas play out, and, for a moment, this gathering is a safe haven from the outside world. Aided by the sensuous cinematography of Shabier Kirchner, McQueen captures an exhilarating expression of Black joy in a society often intent on stifling it.

2020 • 73 minutes • Color/B&W • 5.1 surround • 1.78:1 aspect ratio




Both a hard-hitting indictment of structural injustice and a penetrating portrait of a complex man, Red, White and Blueboasts a passionate, multilayered performance from John Boyega as Leroy Logan, a Black research scientist whose decision to join the notoriously racist London police force, in hopes of reforming it from the inside, brings him into conflict with his family, community, and very sense of self. Based on a true story, this nuanced exploration of Margaret Thatcher–era racial tensions powerfully portrays the psychic struggle of a lone man going up against a system designed to crush him.

2020 • 84 minutes • Color • 5.1 surround • 1.85:1 aspect ratio



An intimate account of a decisive moment in British history unfolds via the true story of one man’s awakening Black consciousness. Raised in cold, oppressive children’s homes that have left him estranged from his West Indian roots, the eponymous orphan Alex Wheatle (Sheyi Cole) gradually finds his voice as an artist, activist, and writer on the streets of Brixton—a transformation that intersects with the 1981 uprising in which the neighborhood’s mainly Black youth erupt in protest against police violence. Interwoven with the vibrant reggae that inspired its subject’s journey, Alex Wheatlecrackles with the heady political and cultural energy of a singular time and place.

2020 • 69 minutes • Color • 5.1 surround • 2.00:1 aspect ratio




A Black boy’s journey through an ineffectual public school system reveals the racial inequities built into everyday British life. Young Kingsley Smith (Kenyah Sandy) is a spirited aspiring astronaut with a love of drawing whose life is turned upside down when he is thrust into a new school for the “educationally subnormal”—a harrowing experience that gradually awakens his mother (Sharlene Whyte) to the institutional mistreatment of the children of West Indian immigrants. Shot on Super 16 mm to evoke BBC television dramas from the 1970s, the final Small Axe film concludes the pentalogy with a hopeful vision of the power of Black-led collective action.

2020 • 66 minutes • Color • 5.1 surround • 1.66:1 aspect ratio

  • Release Details
    Release Date: April 25th, 2023
    Movie Release Year: 2020
    Release Country: United States
    Movie Studio: Criterion
  • Technical Specs
    New high-definition masters of all five films, approved by director Steve McQueen
    Video Resolution/Codec:1080p/AVC MPEG-4
    Aspect Ratio(s):2.39:1
    Audio Formats:English 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks
    Subtitles/Captions:English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing