How Masterpiece’s ‘The Long Song’ Copes With Dark Tales From the Past

The Long Song PBS Masterpiece
Carlos Rodriguez/PBS-Masterpiece

Drama and humor intertwine in the three-part BBC limited series The Long Song, set on a Jamaican plantation in the 1830s.

Though slaves’ tales are far from lighthearted, late British-Jamaican author Andrea Levy (whose novel the show is based on) “had a gallows humor about life,” exec producer Rosie Alison says. “Levy felt that through the long tradition of slavery came people whose natural instinct is to make light of it as a coping mechanism.”

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A restless vicar, an erudite detective, gorgeous sets — what else do you need on cold winter nights?

This means we’ll get brighter moments, such as hardworking slave July (Tamara Lawrance) pulling the corset of mercurial plantation owner Caroline Mortimer (Hayley Atwell) a bit too tight, but also see the horrors July witnesses in others’ mistreatment. “Everybody has shades of gray,” Alison says.

One such perplexing character is British overseer Robert Goodwin (James Lowden), who helps the slaves adjust to emancipated life. He’ll make an emotional connection with July. Robert “arrives full of idealism, but sadly, he becomes a much more complicated figure,” Alison says.

There’s also mystery in July’s journey as the narrative is told via flashbacks with an older July (Doña Croll) writing her story. Alison notes: “You know, at least, that she’s a survivor.”

Here’s the trailer for the 3-part limited series:

Masterpiece’s The Long Song, Series Premiere, Sunday, January 31, 10/9c, PBS(check local listings at