The Long Song: What to Know Before You Watch

Both a riveting look at the end of slavery in Jamaica, and a searing examination of issues relevant to today, The Long Song, adapted from Andrea Levy’s bestselling novel, is a fictional tale of endurance, passion and hope. Before its premiere Sunday, January 31, 2021 at 10pm ET on MASTERPIECE on PBS, find out about the plot and the fascinating personal history that inspired it, the talented cast, filming location, and more!

  1. 1.

    What The Long Song is About

    Tamara Lawrance and Hayley Atwell in The Long Song
    Tamara Lawrance and Hayley Atwell in The Long Song

    Told through the eyes of July, a slave and spirited survivor, The Long Song is set in the 19th century and explores the last days of slavery in British-ruled Jamaica. The story is about injustices humans inflict on each other and the unexpected ways in which people’s humanity can overcome harsh circumstances.

    The story unfolds at the Amity sugar plantation, where the strong-willed July is working as a lady’s maid for Caroline Mortimer. When Robert Goodwin, a new overseer at Amity arrives, both July and Caroline are intrigued by his revolutionary spirit and intent to improve the working conditions on the plantation. But the winds of change across the hot plantation fields end up not being without consequences.

  2. 2.

    The Long Song Book by Andrea Levy

    Doña Croll in The Long Song

    Based on the award-winning novel by the late Andrea Levy (Small Island), the fictional story is inspired by Levy’s family history. Levy was born in England to Jamaican parents who arrived in Britain in 1948. “I’ve always used my books as a personal journey to understand my Caribbean heritage – and with that sooner or later you have to confront slavery,” Levy said.

    After the book was released, research by a family member proved just how personal The Long Song truly was. “It was all done and then my niece found out a lot about our own family history,” Levy explained. “She found out that my great grandfather was born a slave. His mother was a housekeeper on a plantation called Mesopotamia and her mother was a field slave called Minnie. We found out that my great, great-grandfather was from Gainsborough in Britain, his name was William Ridsguard and he was the attorney on the plantation, and he had a child with his house keeper…that child, Richard Ridsguard was my great grandfather.”

  3. 3.

    Key Cast and Characters of The Long Song

    Jack Lowden in The Long Song
    Jack Lowden in The Long Song

    Tamara Lawrance (King Charles III, On Chesil Beach, Kindred) delivers a fierce and unforgettable performance as July. Lawrance was able to discuss the character with author Andrea Levy. “Andrea said that what she didn’t want was an encumbered, hard done-by victim, woe-is-me character,” Lawrance noted. “She said July is flawed, July is manipulative, July is a survivor and July is rebellious…July is always this indominable spirit.”

    Hayley Atwell (Howard’s End, The Duchess, Captain America: The First Avenger, Ant-Man) brings nuance and depth to the role of Caroline Mortimer, a shallow young woman forced to live with her brother in Jamaica following the death of her husband. “I’ve never had the opportunity to play a character like this,” Atwell said. “On the page she seems to be very caricature, at times hysterical, and I knew there would be a risk of not getting the tone right. You don’t want to be commenting on the person that you are playing – you want to be doing it from the insider out. You don’t want to send her up as a two-dimensional figure.”

    Jack Lowden (Dunkirk, Mary Queen of Scots, The Tunnel) portrays Robert Goodwin, the idealistic young overseer who arrives at the plantation with big aspirations. But a darker side of Goodwin is revealed as his business aspirations clash with his belief in equality. “One hundred percent, it’s one of the best written roles,” Lowden said. “Andrea Levy really created three people who can be complete contradictions – I think you will find yourself doubting, hating, loving them. They are complete human beings.”

  4. 4.

    Where The Long Song Was Filmed

    Hayley Atwell in The Long Song

    The Long Song was filmed in the Dominican Republic, a setting that offered grueling hot days, but also surprising beauty. “It looked like a film set,” Hayley Atwell said. “When we were at that plantation house and there would be a sunset, there was a moment when we just stopped filming for a second, and everyone went onto the veranda…just look at these purples and oranges. The plantation was on this kind of hilly land and it looked like a carpet of neon green. It didn’t look real at all. It was a very lush place.”

  5. 5.

    How to Watch The Long Song

    Tamara Lawrance in The Long Song
    Tamara Lawrance in The Long Song

    See The Long Song on MASTERPIECE on PBS in three episodes, Sundays, January 31, February 7 and 14, 2021 at a special time – 10pm ET. Watch each episode online in the general streaming window for 14 days, starting the night of the broadcast premiere. After that, enjoy The Long Song, and a selection of other MASTERPIECE shows, when you watch with PBS Passport, an added member benefit.

    Watch a preview now!


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