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This episode is sponsored by Viking Viking offers an all new custom built ocean fleet designed to bring the traveler closer to the destination with all and staterooms and a short excursion included in every port Viking by river and by sea. Learn more at Viking Cruises Dotcom. I'm Jace Lacob and you're listening to Masterpiece Studio in Episode three of the long song It's 1839 on the Caribbean island of Jamaica.
Despite the British government's unexpected abolition of slavery, most of the island's residents struggle in abject poverty as their white former owners continue to hold power over the former slaves on the lush green island.
Miss Julie, a former House slave taken as a child to be trained as a lady's maid, has risen up in the plantation social hierarchy to become the mistress of the owner. But despite her elevated status, betrayal and anguish await July.
Would you come up and sit with me? We must look after my pickney, Emily, my little girl. She must be fed. You may you may bring the child. I have to serve, you know, more based on Andrea Levy's heartbreaking 2010 novel of the same name. The Long Song stars Tamara Lawrence as Miss July, whose narrative takes us through the tumultuous days of the Christmas rebellion and beyond in Jamaica, as Miss July experiences moments of profound joy and beauty and bitter sorrow.
Tamara Lawrence joins us to discuss her stunning performance as Miss July and meeting the late Andrea Levy, her recent turn in the psychological thriller Kindred and her undying love for iambic pentameter. And this week, we are joined by the long song star tomorrow, Lawrence, welcome. Hey, thank you for having me. The long song is such a powerful, almost incendiary novel about slavery and freedom. What did you make of Julys Story when you read the script?
You know, I thought I was really formidable because I guess when you get sent a script in and it's like, oh, the character is an enslaved person, there's a lot of history and trauma that come to that.
And my initial reactions are like, oh, OK, this is the story I want to tell. Is this a story that I think should be told right now and all of this, all of that? But when I read it, I realized that a slave is not a wolf. The way Andrew writes is that like a quote, slave is not a character. You know, a character is an individual with their own personality, idiosyncracies, sense of humor, wit and flaws.
And I think that's what really struck me, that July is a very fully fleshed human being that you meet as just sort of a young teenager within the context of see who she is becomes a very different objective observation. We can we can perceive who she is in a different way. But she seemed very liberating. Weirdly, she was so subversive to what I would have expected an enslaved woman to be at the time.
Sarah Williams script is, of course, based on the novel by Andrea Levy, who passed away in twenty nineteen. How did you meet Andrea and what sort of conversations did you have with her before shooting the long song? I met Andrea because I when I got there, I was very excited and I just emailed her agent and said, thank you so much, please pass on my thanks to you. And I can't wait to tell the story. Is that and if Andrea has any kind of notes or anything that she'd love to pass along, I willingly, happily take them.
And then I was I got a response saying, oh, yeah, and you would love to invite you round to her house for lunch and say, I was actually invited to meet with her and her husband and there may be some food. And she was very warm. She was witty. She wasn't meek. She had a frankness to her, which made her very funny and strong. And she spoke about the research that she'd done. She spoke about what inspired her to write the story in the first place and spoke about kind of a weird parallel between one of her own ancestors back in her family tree, Angelie and things like that.
And we you know, we just have a nice chat, really lovely afternoon and kept in touch via email up until she was well enough to apply. Your family's from Jamaica.
Your mum emigrated to Britain when she was 17. Does the long song feel deeply personal to you in that way?
I wouldn't say it is personal to me because of my mom being an immigrant, but I think I definitely feel privileged to be able to tell that story because we as actors, we play people from all around the world. And it's not often that you get to form their own heritage. And I don't know anything about kind of before my grandparents, really I don't know much about times before then. And so I can't really I don't know exactly what I would trace my ancestry to.
But obviously somewhere in there I would have descended from some form of enslaved person, probably. But yeah, it was it just felt like a real privilege to be able to to play an actual Jamaican. It is really fun. July is often an unreliable narrator, never more so than when she concocts a story in Episode three about her success as a boarding house owner, seemingly borrowing this Klores story. What do you make of the narrative she constructs for the audience?
One that's rooted in fantasy rather than reality, I think is very cleverly and humorously done by Andrew, obviously. But I think the resonances of that are very striking into today in terms of how people cope with trauma in general. You have to find some form of escapism. Usually you have to create a narrative in which you are the victim and not the victim. You have to find joy and you have to create a context in which it's possible for you to heal.
And so it makes sense that she would create that story because within that story, she can win despite how much she's lost. But in reality of the situation, there's so much that would have been impossible to heal from your child to be stolen from to somewhere that you can't even envisage her child was taken to somewhere she's never even seen. It's the pain. I can't imagine that that pain. I can't imagine healing from that pain except to literally astral project out of your body and go somewhere else.
So I think it is actually makes complete sense as a device, but also as a reality based on those lines.
The long song feels in some ways to be a fairy tale, and I mean that not in the Disney version of the word, but in a sort of Grimm fairy tale. There are clear villains. There's darkness and doom. There's loss and betrayal of the worst kind. Do you see it as an inverted fairy tale in that respect, that the outcome isn't about a happy ending, but ultimately one of just survival? Mm.
I hadn't seen an inverted fairy tale, but I like that interpretation. Yeah. I think definitely the freedom or the happy ending came not in writing, not for NFZ three, not in leaning into the fantasy of having this husband Lensbaby.
But I think for July it was having a reckoning with her own identity. I think for me in episode three, that's when she's sort of like realized who she was before that she was a bit deluded and was existing in the land of sort of superiority complex. But by the time the fallout happens and it descended into chaos, yeah, Jilli has to pick a side on me and decide that she wants to pick ultimately betrays her on the side that she's rejected for the three episodes of the people that save her and get her and bring her back.
Yeah. This story pictures, big events, rebellions, kidnappings, murders, but also these really small, beautifully profound moments that the green bird on the railing that's free to fly away the way that Jilly relishes in the drops of rain on the umbrella as she twirls around Nimrod in the orange. What do you make of these moments of beauty within the piece?
They were a lot of fun to film, but I think they're profoundly moving because we see from all this so much that we take for granted. There's so much to be grateful for and there's so much beauty and joy and the simple things that when you're existing in that amount of daily trauma, they like to have a moment to hold you, No. One, to be gifted an umbrella in the first place to to have that luxury of not being soaking wet is one thing as well as to see, you know, to enjoy the contraption and to see, you know, we didn't I never think about an umbrella and I put it up.
But moments like that highlight the profundity of present moments, I guess.
The long song weaves a fictional narrative of July with real life events like the Christmas rebellion in Jamaica. While this aired in twenty eighteen in Britain, it's airing in twenty twenty one in America, a country that's had to grapple with the murders of George Floyd, Briona Taylor and many other black citizens. I'm talking to you just a few minutes after the inauguration of the first black female vice president. Kamala Harris is the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant. Does the long song feel all the more relevant today?
The long song is a timeless story. I think because of all the things I've mentioned about it. It's fiction, and it's Wick's giving characters a sort of multiplicity which is which makes them very relatable, but also that we're still very much living in the ramifications of all of this stuff. I was very aware of that every single day of filming.
But, you know, we have a cut and I finish work and be in a dark skinned black woman in the Dominican Republic, which the country colonized by Spain. And I'm seeing the way people treated me when I wasn't operating with a level of English privilege by being with a film crew is still very, very relevant. It's very pertinent.
It's very personal. And and, yeah, the the way that black and brown bodies can be murdered with video evidence with impunity over the years gone by. But ultimately because of the access to media and the access to sharing video that we have now, that's why it seems so much more obvious. But yeah, that the only reason people can die like this with no justice is because of the time that the sun is setting. And I think it's also what I love about this story in particular, is that it shines a light on British colonial history rather than solely American, which I know sometimes is the American is.
The salient narrative I think is important that Britain is held accountable and that the black British diaspora is platformed as well. And that legacy is is brought to light. So I think it's definitely relevant. And I'm very intrigued to see how the American audience will respond to it before this next question, a brief word from our sponsors.
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Coming up next on Masterpiece on PBS, the season finale of Miss Scarlet and the Duke and All Creatures Great and small in a special extended finale episode. That's Sunday, February twenty, first starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Central. Caroline Mortimer is a truly monstrous character. She's a racist, abusive bully who's going mad very slowly in the heat. But there are still oddly glimmers of humanity within her as well. What is your take on Caroline as a character in the fact that we do get moments of sympathy for her?
I think it's too easy to say that she's just monstrous and racist. I mean, like racism is the landscape. So everyone was existing within racism.
But that doesn't mean that you can't be humane and have a heart. That was what was nuanced about the story as well as that July was antagonized not just by white people, you know, and she was antagonized by Molly, you know, but she had friends and foes in kind of in different walks of life. And I think Caroline has an element of care for her.
Even if it is that is just this her property. She obviously needs her. She tried to get rid of him and then brought it back.
And yeah, when in an episode three, when she sees Robert losing his mind, some humanity, someone kicks in to stop him from almost killing her. And I think we as an audience can empathize with her. I think we can all empathize with heartbreak or being betrayed or, you know, nobody wants to hit the idea of hearing the man that you knew. You think you're in love with sleeping with someone else in another room in the house. I think that's painful.
And it would be I would hope, as a society. Yeah. That we can extend empathy to Torvill. And I think one of the issues in the zeitgeist that we have to work on is like extending it is kind of debunking a black and white thinking and and learning to extend empathy and humanity where we historically haven't before. And I know it's interesting because it's kind of like, you know, she's the symbol of the of the monsters. And I'm glad that people can find something to like about Caroline.
I think I think that was also part of how Haley played her as well. There's something so ridiculous about her which makes you always feel sorry for her, like standing on purpose. It's like we feel as an audience. You always feel you feel smarter than than Caroline.
I want to talk about Robert Goodwin, played by Jack Loden, who arrives at the end of Episode one. The middle installment portrays July and Robert's unequal, if blissful union. There's a beauty to their scenes together, but it's also a very uneven power dynamic. How would you categorize their romance from its earlier stages to its later ruin? So I think first in my mind, she was using him, she was like, OK, you're the means to an end.
This is my key to social mobility. It wasn't love. I didn't think it was love from Julia's perspective at all. I think Robert would have thought it was love, but it was it was lust. It was lust and arguably fetishization.
Then it kind of goes into it's a toxic love because it's rooted in possession and then both wanting to own each other to an extent. Yeah. And I think Julia is rejecting a part of her identity in order to increase her proximity to him. And he obviously. Is it on some level is hiding he's ashamed or is hiding her? Well, for me, I was trying to play as though if they had they been born in a different time, this would have been it.
They they get each other completely. And it's only because of the context why this couldn't or wouldn't work.
The scene where Julia goes to see Robert to get the book on Scotland and they touch for the first time is such a stunning, complex scene. What did Director Mahalia Bello bring to the scene and what sort of direction did she give you and Jack? So Rehavia said to me that you're going in there to get a husband and the way to get a husband is to put yourself on a plane, essentially. And so that was I think his mission was to, you know, give him the goods.
She's never in a situation I you can't read. Mail is a stunning director that gives a lot of abstract notes.
She's like a poet, I feel sometimes. And I which is like what I like because that allows me to ingest and interpret and the type of activity that Jack is as well. He's very generous and very intelligent and very responsive in the moment. And so we were doing the scene as reds and then the moment where a kind of the heat started to build was just us responding to each other's touch and sort of pushing the boundaries a bit in their behavior.
So I saw that happen and added fuel to the fire allowed us to coax and tease that out of each other until it kind of felt like, OK, we have to now's the moment where we kind of like we've got to do this. But, yeah, it was it was really fun.
I don't know. At the start of the day, I didn't I think I thought that it was going to be like that. But it was it was it was fun. The household is arranged as a menage a trois, captured perfectly in the portrait that the three of them pose for Julys, even raised up onto the same level as Caroline within the portrait. What did you make of this unusual portrait in the fact that it gets left behind when Caroline and Robert returned to England?
Yeah, I thought the portrait was stunning. It is absolutely stunning.
I thought that was it was an important moment for July because it established her for her is all consolidated the the validation that she needed and her self esteem and just her status within the home. And it also made it very clear to Caroline as well. I think that portrait established the dynamic quite clearly, which is which is so important for the story, because then because it's a big thing is a big thing to do what he did, you know, to bring her in the same place.
So is it makes sense as to how they get to a point where there is a baby that comes about, but also it makes it all more painful that he doesn't bring that with her because he's taken apart of her by taking her child. But otherwise, there's no memory of who she is and which I think is the beginning of that of that downfall, of that erasure of July comes when he calls her Marguerite, I think. Yeah.
I mean, he says you heard your mistress Marguerite bring some water and he's just destroyed the workers crops and their homes. And you can see the moment where her heart breaks. It's just sort of written on her face the fact that he has called her by her slave name and has sort of put her back into that status again. He then he then threatens her in the field. We talked about this earlier and he grabs her by the throat and brandishes a machete at her.
And he means to kill her and likely would have had Caroline not interceded. How how challenging a scene was that one to shoot? It's really hard for all of us, I think, to. Well, over July, because she doesn't know what's happening, she's never seen anyone go mad before. Obviously, she's convinced that this man is the love of her life. So for him to then have his hands around her neck is a it is.
But, yeah, it was very it was very distressing. And it also, yeah, their their relationship was it was so, so tricky. It was so tricky because obviously you have to play it as though there was love. But ultimately and within that context, this power dynamic is always going to create a very dangerous imbalance whereby like even if women who worked in the fields and kind of slave owners did have a romance of sorts in this period, you know, that would have happened all the time.
When you can turn around and abuse abuse in any way, kill her, kill her. So he owns her in his mind. So anything can happen and anything did happen.
Heinous things happened for four centuries and say that it was a very, very, very tricky scene.
Why do you think July does what she does, having Elias bring Robert that dish of cockroaches? Because July has on some level an instinctive sense of self-worth.
What I love about her is that kind of there's a there was a rebellious streak in her from from the day you meet her. And so she doesn't care too much about how things should happen in the society she is she's that she's in. She's just going to do what she wants to do. And so that even though she'd had a period of, you know, being quite submissive and maternal and, you know, just being very like a good wife and mother and stuff like that, when she feels wronged, that sense of who she is comes back.
It's like for me, it was like, I'm dying and you've messed with me now. So this is this is what you get, you know, using his his fear, his weakness against him. She's very, very smart, very sharp. And I think she will. But I think she hoped that she would get more pleasure out of that than she did. But I don't think in that scene it was it was enough. It wasn't it wasn't satisfying.
It wasn't an equal, you know, I mean, it wasn't it wasn't tit for tat, but it kind of did the job to see himself. Yeah.
Julia's an old woman when she's found by her now adult son, Thomas, and told to write her story. She says it is important. He say, I still think of my baby girl grown up now in England. Does she know her true mama was born a slave? Maybe my book her one day. What are your thoughts about the ending and do you feel there is a sense of hope embedded within it? Yes, yes, I think that is a sense of I think there is a sense of hope because and maybe that's because we're watching from the future, but we we know that things change for God.
I don't know how they did it. I don't know how they did that. The things that I still struggle with now, really basic, myopic pain. But the strength, the fortitude it must have taken to believe that life could be any different is insane to learn, to read and to learn, to write and say, I hope that maybe this book will. I think that's the reason why black people are here today, because there were people like that that despite everything that was happening around them, just thought no one day, some one day life could change.
And that's what makes me especially proud to be Jamaican, because it's like that's a rebel island. That's a rebel island. How did they do that? That's my God, that's not what they did. But what we owe I owe them my life. I owe them my life.
And I think also the final shot when we were all sort of that montage of us all in in the cave and the camera sort of pans to different characters, faces in the story.
When we were that was that was a very emotional scene. And we all had to sort of calm down and to be able to do it. And then in the end, we, like, held each other and and comforted each other.
But my note was, you know, I want you to look down the lens and tell the viewer that it's going to be OK. That was hard for that scene and that final montage. So I think ultimately that, yeah, the story does end with an element of hope that life can continue, which is also really pertinent. That is called the long song as well. You know, this aria is still going, but hopefully one day, you know, and probably not in our lifetime.
But I think two things will be better. You know, they already are, but we still got a way to go. And hopefully, like some of the stuff that we're we're still battling with today, like all posterity won't have to worry about.
If you were reunited with your long song co-star and friend Jack Loudon in the thriller Kindred, what was it like making this film with Jack who clearly wanted you to play Charlotte?
Yeah, I thought it was great. It was a very different dynamic. You know, we always joke about doing the hat trick and maybe doing a play together at some point as well just to, like, top it all off. But no, I love working with Jack, I think is an incredible act.
And it was a very different dynamic in a very different story, a lot more mistrust rather than love with candid, much more intimate with the cast. And I think Charlotte has a lot more fight than July was able to have because of the context. But it's a similar kind of being deprived of agency, though, as well, which is it is an interesting thread between the two jobs. Another great director and obviously working with people that I really write and have waited for a while between Fiona and John and even Chloe, Perry and Anton.
Some people that I've seen from afar in twenty seventeen, you played Jess and King Charles, the third, which aired on Masterpiece and starred as Viola in Twelfth Night at the National. You've also played Puck and Macbeth. What do you love most about performing in iambic pentameter? Oh, I love Shakespeare. What I love most about it, the way that when you figure it out, it sounds like that it makes sense. And it might be a strange thing to say, but I think sometimes Shakespeare pentameter is seen as a very highfalutin art form.
But what I love about it is that Shakespeare was sort of the everyman and that actually, if you were around if he were all contemporary, he would be the equivalent of for me, he would be the equivalent of like drill or something like that, like just people who are speaking in a very codified way to a certain rhythm and putting in poetry as well as social commentary. And obviously Drill has it's the things that are bad about it, whatever. But I think as a as a lyrical form, it's very impressive.
And a lot of people don't understand it and people don't. And that's what was happening to Shakespeare as well. So that's why I love it. I really resonate with it. And I love.
I also think he wrote some incredible characters that have a lot of mantri like words to live by, because essentially it's like, oh yeah, OK. Above all else, to thine own self be true. And then then it can follow as the night, the day that you can be false to no man. Like it's like what if that's not scripted. I don't know what is for me. I'm not saying that, you know, I'm not saying the complete works is my Bible, but I'm saying that there are there's a lot of juice in there.
So much juice is made is made to be so inaccessible. But but when when like people are able to get it, it's like.
Amazing. I love it, Tamara Lawrence, thank you so very much. Thank you. It's been fun. Next, we shift back a century forward in time to Christmas time in the Yorkshire Dales and wrap up the first season of All Creatures, Great and Small with farmer's daughter Helen Alderson.
You've been called out Greenup's. The Chapmans season is having trouble with her pups. Oh, I love birth and.
Twenty four come with you.
I think you should probably stay and enjoy the party, please, James, anything stately Reminderville Academy Award winner Rachel Shenton, who stars as the strong willed potential love interest Helen in the charming All Creatures, joins us here in the podcast, February 21st. Masterpiece Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob, and produced by Nick Anderson, Alicia Backed-up is our editor, the executive producer of Masterpiece, Suzanne Simpson. Sponsors for Masterpiece on PBS are Viking Cruises, Raymond James and the Masterpiece Trust.