TV Pick of the Week: Three Little Birds - review by Yvette Huddleston
Lenny Henry’s powerful, personal and often moving series is loosely based on some of the experiences of his own family when they came over to the UK from the Caribbean in the 1950s, settling in Dudley in the West Midlands.
In the opening episode we meet three young women, all in their twenties, who make the journey to a new life in England. Sisters Chantrelle (Saffron Coomber) and Leah (Rochelle Neil) and their friend Hosanna (Yazmin Belo) all have different reasons for leaving behind their homeland. Leah is escaping an abusive husband and has left her three young children with her mother, hoping to bring them over to join her later. Chantrelle, who has secured a job as a nanny, has big dreams of becoming a film star – she has even chosen her job, in Borehamwood, because of its proximity to the nearby film studios. Hosanna meanwhile, a devout Christian and daughter of a pastor, is in search of a husband and has been persuaded by the two sisters that their brother Aston (Javone Prince) is a suitable candidate.
Aston meets them as they dock and says he has arranged for all of them to stay overnight in London before making the trip over to Borehamwood to drop off Chantrelle and then drive up to the Midlands. Arriving ten years after the first wave of immigrants who came on the Windrush, there is an established Caribbean community, in London at least, but the three young women are appalled by the conditions in which their compatriots are living. Slum buildings are pretty much all that is available to them – signs of ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ adorning windows of rented accommodation. That is not the welcome they were expecting to receive.
A party at one of the houses is raided by the police and partygoers rounded up and hauled off. When Hosanna tries to reason with one of the officers – no-one was doing anything wrong – she is roughly bundled into the back of a police van and spends the night in jail. When the next day Chantrelle is dropped off at the home of the family she will be working for, she is instructed by the lady of the house to use the back door. Henry’s script, written in collaboration with Russell T Davies, addresses the racism and prejudice routinely faced by those Commonwealth citizens coming to ‘the mother country’ from the Caribbean.