‘The Long Song’ set for January 2021 premiere on PBS’ Masterpiece

Tamara Lawarance as July in The Long Song on PBS Masterpiece. Photo: BBC

Premiering Sunday, January 31 at 10pET/9pCT, The Long Song on Masterpiece brilliantly tells the story of the final years of slavery on the island of Jamaica and the transition to freedom that took place after its abolition in 1833. The story of The Long Song is long overdue given it premiered on BBC One in 2018 and will be a strong addition to the 50th anniversary line-up for PBS’ Masterpiece series this season.

Based on Andrea Levy’s award-winning novel about the end of slavery in Jamaica, the 3-part miniseries follows July (Tamara Lawrance, King Charles III), an indomitable, young slave who works on a sugarcane plantation with her detestable mistress, Caroline Mortimer (Hayley Atwell, The Avengers).

Hayley Atwell as Caroline Mortimer in The Long Song on PBS. Photo: BBC

Atwell is so ‘detestable’ that she admitted during the filming that she felt “disgusting” playing such an appalling character in The Long Song, but that made it all the more important to inject “humanity” into the role opting instead to explore why Caroline did what she did, and what damage her systematic cruelty upon others ultimately did to her own soul. “I felt disgusting, and I felt gross but then I thought that’s how I’m meant to feel. I’m doing things going that against my instincts as a person,” said Atwell.

The series starts out in early 1800s Jamaica as Caroline adopts (as in snatches from her mother as a young child) the child slave July as her maid. July grows up to witness the Christmas Rebellion and the radical transformation of her world. Their lives change with the arrival of the charming and idealistic overseer, Robert Goodwin (Jack Lowden, Dunkirk) who sets out to improve the plantation for both the slaves and the mistress.

Hayley Atwell and Tamara Lawrance in The Long Song on PBS. Photo: BBC

However, his arrival sparks a bitter rivalry between July and her mistress as the field hands rebel against his work demands. Facing labor unrest and financial ruin for the plantation, Robert’s sanity starts to unravel, with devastating effects on July. Years later, she makes a remarkable discovery.

As you can imagine, some of the scenes in The Long Song are extremely hard to watch but need to be seen given their stark reminder of the cruelty of slavery. As in the book, the television adaptation explores many of the same themes, including British colonialism, slavery, racism, violence and love.

The Long Song will definitely be time well spent as part of Masterpiece‘s 50th anniversary line-up. The series premieres Sunday, January 31 at 10pET/9pCT and continues each Sunday through February 14.

In: Drama