Small Axe: Alex Wheatle (2020)


Alex Wheatle
Small Axe

Critics Consensus

Sheyi Cole shines in Alex Wheatle, a harrowing biopic that barely scratches the surface of a complex life, but does so with empathy and finesse.



Critic Ratings: 38


Audience Score

User Ratings: 25

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Air date: Dec 11, 2020

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Tv Season Info

Alex Wheatle follows the true story of award-winning writer, Alex Wheatle (Sheyi Cole), from a young boy through his early adult years. Having spent his childhood in a mostly white institutional care home with no love or family, he finally finds not only a sense of community for the first time in Brixton, but his identity and ability to grow his passion for music and DJ'ing. When he is thrown in prison during the Brixton Uprising of 1981, he confronts his past and sees a path to healing. Sheyi Cole stars opposite Jonathan Jules, with Robbie Gee (Snatch), Elliot Edusah (1917), Cecilia Noble (Black Mirror) and Johann Myers (The Lost City of Z). Alex Wheatle was co-written by Alastair Siddons and Steve McQueen.

News & Interviews for Small Axe: Alex Wheatle

Critic Reviews for Small Axe Alex Wheatle

All Critics (38) | Top Critics (17)

Of the five films in McQueen's opus, Alex Wheatle is the one I liked least.

Dec 11, 2020 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

It's not on a par with the previous Small Axe films but it is quite good.

Dec 10, 2020 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

As a biopic in miniature, Alex Wheatle begs for more chapters; as a footnote to the broader purpose of Small Axe to celebrate the resilience of its subjects, it's another rousing snapshot.

Dec 1, 2020 | Rating: B | Full Review…

It is not the most exceptional film in this altogether exceptional series. But it is just as indispensable as everything else here.

Dec 15, 2020 | Rating: 3.5/5 | Full Review…

The least satisfying entry.

Jan 12, 2021 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

Underscores the importance of community bonding that has threaded all throughout Small Axe, but never felt so nice as it feels in this episode.

Jan 3, 2021 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

In some ways, it's an inverse of "Red, White & Blue" and with nuanced question of artistic appropriation. This film's plainspoken title makes perfect sense: Wheatle had to figure out what his name meant to him before it could mean anything to others.

Dec 24, 2020 | Rating: 3.5/5 | Full Review…

Alex Wheatle is another Small Axe must-see.

Dec 22, 2020 | Full Review…

Still, even a weak Small Axe still has some heft. Cole, in his screen debut, infuses Alex with nuance the script doesn't always supply.

Dec 22, 2020 | Full Review…

A carefully observed film about a noted British author, this drama says more in an hour than most bloated biopics manage in two.

Dec 18, 2020 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Saying that its the weakest entry in the Small Axe series doesn't make it not good. It's just the only entry in the anthology that feels a bit rushed and under-cooked.

Dec 17, 2020 | Rating: B | Full Review…

An intimate portrait of a Black artist as a young man.

Dec 15, 2020 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Small Axe: Alex Wheatle

  • 3d ago
    This was easily my least favorite of the Small Axe films so far, but as I generally don't love biopics, I am not surprised by this. McQueen still makes the visual appeal high but unfortunately for me the content rarely had me fully engaged. I had never heard of Alex Wheatle before though and I will never complain about learning something new.
  • Jan 13, 2021
    It's not the shining star in the sky of Small Axe, but it's still good. McQueen's character development is always on point, as is his ability to build a relationship with the audience. The build up through our getting to know about Alex is solid, but there does seem to be a disjointed period when the story tracks in-and-around the Brixton riots, during which different key points seem to vie for the spotlight. It somehow left everything feeling disconnected, which is a shame. This chapter could really have done with more content to truly elevate it and strengthen the core theme
  • Dec 28, 2020
    What does not kill us making us stronger. The hardship this brother faced and overcame is an inspiration for all who have faced challenges in life. I am pleased when seeing or hearing people who have had difficult times win at the end. Great episode and music loving the sounds.
  • Dec 25, 2020
    Just amazing. It is a joke that some people rated it low because it is about racisms?
  • Dec 12, 2020
    Episode/Movie/Story #4 of Steve McQueen's fantastic Small Axe series brings us the eye-opening 'Alex Wheatle' which is a more hopeful story than the previous three and despite being set over 30 years ago it feels all too real. One can only imagine how many Wheatle stories are out there for those who didn't become famous. It's certainly doesn't have much meat on the bone, however there's a power and a strength that should be derived. Over the 66 minutes you're immersed into the myriad of feelings that our subject goes through. However, there is an overriding sense that good things are ahead. Every episode in this group is worth a watch. Each touches on a different nerve and pulls out a distinct emotion from the viewer. Final Score: 9/10

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