Tamara Lawrance (Kings Charles III, Undercover) leads the cast as protagonist July in The Long Song, a three-part adaptation of Andrea Levy’s award-winning, best-selling novel for BBC One, which will also star Hayley Atwell (Howards End, Avengers), Jack Lowden (War & Peace, Dunkirk) and Sir Lenny Henry (Broadchurch). As previously announced, the series director is Mahalia Belo.
Set during the final days of slavery in 19th century Jamaica, the story follows the strong-willed, young slave July (Lawrance) on a plantation owned by her odious mistress Caroline Mortimer (Atwell). When a charming new arrival to the island, Robert Goodwin (Lowden), becomes the new overseer, July and Caroline are both intrigued by his seemingly revolutionary determination to improve the plantation for the slaves and mistress alike.
During a time of social unrest and turmoil, this powerful story is told from July’s perspective as she looks back over her life; the tone is funny, defiant and indomitable. It’s a story about the injustices that humans inflict upon each other and the unexpected ways in which people’s humanity sometimes overrules their prejudices.
On being cast in The Long Song, Tamara Lawrance says: “Every day at work is enlightening. A real blessing to be amongst this cast and crew, playing a character as subversive as July. She relishes mutiny with wit and courage; finding ways to win in spite of her circumstances. She also rings true to Jamaica’s national heroes – Nanny, Paul Bogle and Sam Sharpe – who, by standing up for their own humanity, shifted world history. I believe stories like these illuminate the legacy of slavery in relation to where we are today. It’s all still relevant!”
Hayley Atwell adds: “I am delighted to be part of this beautiful story written with warmth, sensitivity, humour and intelligence by Andrea Levy. Playing the deeply flawed Caroline Mortimer is a thrilling challenge and entirely new territory for me as an actor. Audiences will fall in love with the story’s remarkable heroine, July, who endures on-going abuses of power with dignity and poise, surviving injustices that were devastatingly prevalent during this time and place in history. It is a story that demands to be told.”
Also joining the cast is Sir Lenny Henry (Broadchurch) as Godfrey, Doña Croll (EastEnders) as Old July, Sharon Duncan-Brewster (The Boy With The Topknot) as Kitty, Ayesha Antoine (Chewing Gum) as Molly, Arinzé Kene (King Lear) as Thomas, Ansu Kabia (Murder On The Orient Express) as James Richards, Jordan Bolger (Peaky Blinders) as Nimrod, Joy Richardson (Children Of Men) as Miss Rose, Madeleine Mantock (Charmed) as Miss Clara and Leo Bill (Taboo) as John Howarth.
Three hundred years of slavery finally came to a chaotic end on the British-ruled Caribbean island of Jamaica in 1838. It is a shameful and rarely-acknowledged part of British colonial history. And though Abolition may have been the first step on the road to racial equality, it is a very long road and one upon which we still travel today.
But far from being a harrowing tale of violence and misery that one might expect from such a history, The Long Song is in fact a story of love, hope, passion, survival and determination, full of insight and humour.
Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, says: “Andrea Levy’s magnificent, poignant and stirring novel has been beautifully adapted by Sarah Williams for BBC One. At the heart of the story is the extraordinarily resilient and spirited Miss July, who I’m thrilled will be played by the fantastic Tamara Lawrance. With a hugely talented cast of actors joining Tamara, from Hayley Atwell to Jack Lowden and Lenny Henry, I know this sweeping series about love and survival will excite BBC One audiences.”
Rosie Alison, Executive Producer for Heyday Television, adds: “The Long Song cries out for dramatisation, giving voice as it does to people who were all too often rubbed out of history. We needed an exceptional actress with thrilling range and fierce intelligence to play the subversive heroine of the story, Miss July. So we are delighted to have found rising star Tamara Lawrance, a brilliant young British actress with Jamaican roots, to be our July. The cast surrounding her, led by Hayley Atwell and Jack Lowden, could not be more vivid and compelling.”
Directed by Mahalia Belo, it will be produced by Heyday Television, a joint venture with NBCUniversal International Studios, for BBC One. Executive Producers are David Heyman and Rosie Alison for Heyday Television, and Ben Irving for BBC One, alongside Andrea Levy and Sarah Williams. Roopesh Parekh is Producer and the series will be distributed by NBC Universal International Distribution. Filming has begun in the Dominican Republic.
The Long Song novel was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize and longlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize. It was the recipient of the 2011 Walter Scott Prize. It’ll go out on BBC One on 18th – 20th December at 9pm.
Pictured: Tamara Lawrance and Hayley Atwell