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Sunday, April 18 at 9 p.m. – Masterpiece Classic "Small Island"

(Rochester, NY) Andrea Levy’s uplifting story of Jamaican immigrants arriving in war-ravaged London with hope, energy and a limitless capacity to accept rejection comes to Masterpiece Classic in a two-part adaptation starring Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean) and David Oyelowo (The Last King of Scotland). Masterpiece Classic "Small Island" airs Sundays, April 18 and 25 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11). Laura Linney hosts the broadcast.

The saga begins in Jamaica in 1939 with Hortense, an illegitimate teenager brought up in the family of Michael (Ashley Walters), an older-brother figure whom she idolizes. Jamaicans of this era are proud subjects of the British Empire, looking up to all things English and ready to make sacrifices for the mother country.

With the arrival of World War II, they readily accept the call to service. Michael joins the RAF to fight in Europe. And so does Gilbert, a happy-go-lucky laborer who is engaged to one of Hortense’s friends. Meanwhile, Hortense trains as a teacher and saves her money, dreaming of marrying Michael and moving to England.

Her big chance comes after the war, not with Michael — who has been declared missing in action — but thanks to Gilbert, who agrees to a marriage of convenience with Hortense so that he can buy passage to England and she can later follow as a respectable, married woman.

The British side of the story charts Queenie’s own odyssey: from a pig farm in Yorkshire to the disenchanting freedom of London and an eventual troubled marriage to Bernard. He goes off to war, and she providentially meets Michael and later Gilbert. With her open heart and remarkable lack of prejudice, she represents the best that England has to offer her children from the colonies. For Queenie, it’s a gift that exacts a great price.

Small Island paints a vivid portrait of England and Jamaica at a turning point in their long relationship, when people whose ancestors had been slaves for the empire began coming to the mother country in search of opportunity.

Small Island also stars Ruth Wilson (Jane Eyre) and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Last Enemy) as Queenie and Bernard, a conventional but mismatched English couple who end up as landlords to new immigrants Hortense and Gilbert (played by Harris and Oyelowo). The relations between the four, each of whom faces a grueling personal struggle, are the occasion for gentle humor and intense heartbreak.

 


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