sun 24/10/2021

Small Axe: Red, White and Blue, BBC One review - sobering real-life story of police officer Leroy Logan | reviews, news & interviews

Small Axe: Red, White and Blue, BBC One review - sobering real-life story of police officer Leroy Logan

Small Axe: Red, White and Blue, BBC One review - sobering real-life story of police officer Leroy Logan

One man's bid to change the Metropolitan Police from the inside

To protect and serve: Leroy Logan (John Boyega) joins the MetWill Robson-Scott

The third film in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe quintet (BBC One) took for its subject the real-life story of Leroy Logan, the Islington-born son of Jamaican parents who joined the Metropolitan Police in the early Eighties.

Despite encountering racism and prejudice, and having the local West Indian kids calling him “Judas” and “coconut”, he rose through the ranks to become a Superintendent.

However, this account by McQueen and co-writer Courttia Newland omitted that last bit and focused on Leroy’s early days on the force, after he’d taken the decision to abandon a promising career as a research scientist to pound the beat in a blue uniform instead. You could call his career-change brave, or you might agree with his family and friends that he’d experienced an inexplicable lapse of reason – “I thought you were cool, what happened to you?” as his pop-singer buddy Leee John (Tyrone Huntley) incredulously asked him. In particular, Leroy’s decision caused painful ructions with his father Ken (Steve Toussaint, pictured below), who’d suffered a gratuitous beating from a pair of thuggish policemen at around the time Leroy applied to the Met, leaving him demoralised and boiling with anger.

John Boyega returned to earth from his adventures in the Star Wars franchise (a little “Jedi” joke had sneaked into the script) to play Leroy as a man of humility and integrity, who joined the police out of a genuine desire to serve the community, both black and white. Sometimes he seemed too good to be true, a perfect son and an ideal husband, driven by an inner certainty that “I have a calling to protect and serve.” An Asian police recruit, sickened by the numbskulled bigotry dished out to him by white officers, asked Logan why he was doing this? “I feel like someone’s got to be the bridge,” he replied. “Someone’s got to take out the rubbish.”

Many of his fellow-cops doubtless thought he was too good to be true too. He was the outstanding performer in his intake of new recruits, so impressive that the Met’s powers-that-be selected him to be the face of a poster campaign to attract more coloured volunteers. Nonetheless, McQueen’s depiction of the police reviewing panel, consisting entirely of loftily condescending white officers, suggested that this was just convenient window-dressing rather than a sea-change in attitudes. Logan's declaration that he wasn't there to make friends but "to change the organisation from the inside" sounded dangerously like a boast too far.

Whether the present-day Met is still “institutionally racist” I couldn’t say (the real-life Logan believes it is), but in the period being depicted the police had terrorised a generation of black Londoners by the use of the notorious “sus” stop-and-search laws. Though we saw Logan being urged to join the force by a friendly white officer he’d met at the running track, and initial impressions suggested that his wholehearted approach to the job was winning him sympathy and understanding, it wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t long before he was finding racist abuse painted on his locker, and an incident where fellow officers failed to respond to his call for help in arresting a felon could have left him dead or badly injured.

Where last week’s Small Axe instalment, Lovers Rock, was a reverie of West Indian house parties mostly worth watching for a hypnotising sequence built around Janet Kay’s "Silly Games", this was a tautly-directed drama which left you admiring the fortitude of its central character while shuddering at the obstacles cynically thrown in his path. As Leroy’s dad put it, “big change – that is a slow-turning wheel.”

Comments

what a disgrace the white policemen in the London Police Force were and how brave Leroy was. He was worth 10 of each one of them and I hope they watch the programme and feel ashamed.

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