Last night I was able to catch the first episode of the PBS Masterpiece showing of Andrea Levy’s Small Island which is based on her book. I’d heard a bit about the book (mostly that it was good) but was unaware of the plot or all of the praise and awards that it has received. Sitting down to watch, it started off a bit slow but by the end I was immersed in the story. We meet Hortense (played by Naomie Harris), a young lady living in Jamaica, with dreams of becoming a teacher and moving to England. She dreams of electric lights and a garden. It is clear that she is a bright woman and seems to regret that her island is too small to hold and fulfill her dreams. War breaks out between England and Germany and many Jamaican men enlist and are shipped off. We follow a young man named Gilbert (David Oyelowo) as he enlists. Hortense finds herself learning to knit socks as opposed to learning to become a teacher. Still she resolves to do the best that she can and await news of her friend Michael. In the film she is the only one knitting red socks.
At the end of the war in a courageous and somewhat desperate act to realize her dreams of going to England, Hortense marries Gilbert. Meanwhile an English woman named Queenie awaits the return of her husband from the war. She is caring for her father-in-law and has opened her home to soldiers who need lodgings. What she finds is a capacity for love that she didn’t think existed. And somehow these lives will all clash together in the second episode. I will certainly be tuned in.
According to her website, Levy’s own father immigrated to England from Jamaica.