The Long Song (2018) 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

I have never read the novel that inspired this miniseries but I can see why it became a best-seller. The wit that goes along with the heroine’s hardships makes this a surprisingly funny but dark look at the end of slavery in Jamaica.

Miss July (Tamara Lawrance) has known nothing except life on a sugar plantation in Jamaica. Taken from her mother at seven years old because Caroline (Hayley Atwell) took a fancy to her as a house slave, July fetches and carries for her mistress, endures her frequent temper tantrums, and occasionally, cuts the pearl buttons off her dresses. She has enough sass and common sense to stay out of trouble, and a bit of an ego that makes her compete with other, whiter-skinned slaves, whenever her mistress throws a disastrous dinner party.

On Christmas, while Caroline and her guests eat off a “soiled sheet instead of a fine linen tablecloth” (payback from an angry slave), word arrives of a slave revolt. Away goes Caroline in a carriage, hopeful to save herself. July trots into the master bedroom with her boyfriend. But she wakes up to a disaster — Caroline’s brother comes home and blows his brains out... in the room where she cowers under the bed. What happens next changes her life forever, along with her falling in love with the handsome Robert Goodwin (Jack Lowden).

There’s a sense of sly humor throughout this story that doesn’t detract from the awful characters and harrowing circumstances of freeing the Jamaican slaves. July recounts with a sense of irony that nothing much changed for them, and while Queen Victoria compensated all the slave owners, the slaves got paid nothing for decades of hard labor. The costuming is terrific, as are the actors. Atwell is particularly loathsome as the selfish, conceited, ignorant, and spoiled Caroline. And the script has a cheekiness about it that allows its lead actress to smirk into the camera when we first meet her.

However, there’s nothing new here -- it’s full of tired stereotypes. No good white people to offset the bad white people. Slaves that grin and bear it, and prove themselves strong despite the awful circumstances they find themselves in. All the usual tropes happen, from rape to condescending conversations about “negroes” in front of the slaves. July is likable, but no one else is -- especially not Robert Goodwin. He’s such a flaming, selfish hypocrite, it made me wonder why she tolerated him. How much “love” can cover up a multitude of sins? This is a man who marries a woman just so he can sleep every night with her maid!

So while I found it a diverting three hours, I’d never watch it again.

Sexual Content:
An implied sex scene (a man and woman kiss, grope, and fall back onto a bed); a man and woman pant and clutch at each other, before he pushes her away; two brief, graphic sex scenes (no nudity); a man marries a woman, then sleeps only with her slave; implications of repeated rapes (off-screen) by an overseer.
 
Language:
Scattered uses of general profanities, a few uses of "sh*t," some crass remarks about people's anatomy.
 
Violence:
Lots of violence toward slaves; they are hung, flogged, slapped, and beaten. A man shoots himself in the head; another man is shot in the head; a woman stabs a man in the back; riots lead to violence and hardship.

 
Other:
Somewhat stereotypical depictions of slaves and their owners.