Lovers Rock is part of the Small Axe anthology, which comprises five original films by Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame, 12 Years A Slave, Widows).
Set from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, the films each tell a different story involving London’s West Indian community, whose lives have been shaped by their own force of will, despite rampant racism and discrimination. Even though this collection of films is set some decades ago, the stories are as vital and timely today asthey were forthe WestIndian community in London at the time. Small Axe is a celebration of Black joy, beauty, love, friendship, family,
music and even food; each one, in its own unique way, conveys hard-won successes, bringing hope and optimism for 2020.
An ode to the romantic reggae genre called “Lovers Rock” and to the youth who found freedom and love in its sound, Lovers Rock tells a fictional story of young love and music at a house party in 1980. Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn makes her screen debut opposite the BAFTA 2020 Rising Star award recipient Micheal Ward (Top Boy). Shaniqua Okwok (Boys), Kedar Williams-Stirling (Sex Education), Ellis George (Doctor Who), Alexander James-Blake (Top Boy), Kadeem Ramsay (Blue Story) also star, as well as Francis Lovehall and Daniel Francis-Swaby, who make their screen debuts.
Executive Producers are Steve McQueen for his Lammas Park Productions, Tracey Scoffield and David Tanner for Turbine Studios, Lucy Richer for BBC One and Rose Garnett for BBC Films, with Amazon Studios co-producing in the US. The production team includes director of photography Shabier Kirchner (Bull, Skate Kitchen), production designer Helen Scott (A Very English Scandal,Fish Tank), Academy Award-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran (Little Women, 1917, Darkest Hour) and edited by Academy Award-winning editor Chris Dickens (Slumdog Millionaire, Les Miserables) and writer-director Steve McQueen. Lovers Rock was co-written by novelist and playwright, Courttia Newland (The Gospel According to Cane, Family Room), and Steve McQueen.
Although Lovers Rock is the only fictional story among the five feature films that make up Small Axe, the message of self-reliance and Black ingenuity binds it to the other four. A movie of tactile sensuality and levitating joy, Lovers Rock mostly takes place over one night at a London house
party in 1980. While McQueen and co-screenwriter Courttia Newland have constructed their narrative around the growing attraction between Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and a brooding stranger (Micheal Ward), the film is equally about the rapture of music, specifically the reggae genre of the title—typified in the film’s swooning centerpiece set to Janet Kay’s euphoric 1979 single “Silly Games”— the intoxicating choreography (Coral Messam) and Kirchner’s intimate cinematography of the actors performance on the dancefloor.
Lovers Rock perfectly captures the ritual of young love at Blues parties. If a man wanted to dance with a woman, he would touch her elbow and let his hand slide down to her hand. If the woman wanted to dance, she would let the man lead her to the floor. If she didn’t, she would pull away.
This is just one of the intricate details that plays out in Lovers Rock. Such parties took place in homes and were born out of necessity when Black Londoners were un-welcome to revel in white nightclubs. Amid the West Indian community’s can-do attitude, blossomed a Blues party culture.
A sanctuary of sorts, where sweethearts could dress up, pay a small admission fee, dance to romantic Reggae songs, buy beers, eat goat curry and rice and joyously celebrate life without apologies or restrictions.
“I love it because that is what Small Axe is about,”
“It is about doing it yourself. Don’t worry if people won’t let you in. You make your own.”