Michael Cuesta’s review published on Letterboxd:
So there it is, the end of Small Axe. Certainly a great series worth your time; all the films in it range from good to excellent in quality. As someone who has never watched a Steve McQueen film prior to now, I was definitely satisfied. A quick recap and my ratings:
Mangrove: Probably the most conventional narrative in the series, and very similar in a lot of ways to The Trial of the Chicago 7. Also the only one to be feature length. Though narratively there isn't anything too crazy that goes on here, the movie works mostly due to how good all the performances and direction are. Steve McQueen has this really great ability to focus on a actor and hold and really wring a shot for everything that it is worth.
Lover's Rock: For me the clear highlight of the bunch. A masterpiece of a movie and probably my favorite film of 2020. Feels very new wave in the way that it does away with narrative structure and convention in lieu of something more free flowing and organic. Even though little "happens" it is, the direction is so pitch perfect as to create a wonderfully hypnotic and musical experience. Where as the other films in the series focus on issues of racial injustice, this one feels like a counterpoint in the way that it celebrates the joy of community. Definitely give this one a watch, even if you aren't interested in the other films
Red, White and Blue: The second best of the series. John Boyega probably gives the best performance of the anthology and I am glad that he won the golden globe. A great look at the issues of racism within the police, and the sheer struggle of trying to make society a better place. More so than any other entry in the series, this one encapsulates the titular proverb "If you are the big tree, we are the small axe." Some criticized the ending for being too abrupt, but frankly I don't agree at all.
Alex Wheatle: Probably the weak link of the series, though still not bad. I cant help but feel however that this and the last entry would have worked better as feature films, where as Lover's Rock and Red White and Blue work exceptionably well as shorter films. It also is the most unfocused of the five, and I don't really think that the attempts with nonlinearity paid off very well. Despite all this, the movie is still anchored by great performances and direction.
Education: As I mentioned before, this one would have been better if it was a bit longer. Probably the film in the series that stands out the least to me, even though it is better over all than Alex Wheatle, as such I dont have a ton to say about it.