Denise Gooding, who lost her brother in the New Cross fire.

Uprising: viewers are praising the first episode of Steve McQueen’s important new docuseries

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The first episode of Steve McQueen’s new documentary series, Uprising, aired on BBC One last night (20 July). Here’s what viewers had to say.

Updated 21 July: Viewers are praising Steve McQueen’s “eye-opening” new documentary series, Uprising, after the first episode aired on BBC One last night.

The three-part series, which will explore three key events from 1981 that shaped race relations in the UK “for a generation”, started with the story of the New Cross house party fire, in which 13 Black teenagers lost their lives.

Although members of the local community and general public believed the fire to be an arson attack committed by racists, no one was ever charged for it – a fact which later led to an uprising among the Black British community. 

As well as establishing the cultural context surrounding the fire – including the rise of the National Front and the blatant racism of the police at the time – the episode also employed the stories of survivors and local community members to paint a picture of the events, from local councillors to activists and DJs.  

Uprising features interviews with survivors and local community members affected by the fire. George Ruddock, pictured, lost his cousins Paul and Yvonne Ruddock.
Uprising features interviews with survivors and local community members affected by the fire. George Ruddock, pictured, lost his cousins Paul and Yvonne Ruddock.

Responding to the episode after it aired last night, many took to Twitter to praise McQueen’s storytelling, describing the episode as “harrowing” and “eye-opening”.

“Watching Uprising right now. Had to steel myself before putting it on but like all uneasy truths, it’s essential and eye-opening,” read one response.

“This is a hard but necessary watch. Painful,” added another

“More quality television from Steve McQueen. Difficult and tragic storytelling but important viewing nonetheless,” read a third.

While a fourth response simply read: “God #Uprising is good… vital, harrowing, compelling.” 

All three episodes of Uprising are now available to watch on BBC iPlayer if you want to dive straight in, but you can also catch the second and third episodes on BBC One at 9pm on 27 July and 3 August respectively.

Keep reading to find out more about what you can expect from the second and third episodes. 

As reported 13 May: Last year, Academy Award winner Sir Steve McQueen impressed audiences with Small Axe, a five-part anthology series set within London’s West Indian community from the late 1960s to the early 80s.

The five short films, which starred the likes of Letitia Wright, John Boyega, Michael Ward and Rochenda Sandall, dramatised a series of true events which shaped and represented UK race relations during this period, including the protests led by the Mangrove Nine and the imprisonment of the award-winning writer Alex Wheatle (played by Sheyi Cole).

And now, in his next series for the BBC, McQueen will continue his work exploring UK race relations in the late 20th century – although this time, it’ll be in documentary form.

The three-part docuseries, called Uprising, is described as a “vivid and visceral” examination of three events from 1981 which defined race relations “for a generation”.

These events include the New Cross Fire, which took place in January and killed 13 Black teenagers. Although authorities put the cause of the fire down to an accident, many members of the public believed that the fire had been an arson attack, and criticised the police for not taking further action.

The two other events explored in the series are the Black People’s Day of Action, which took place in March and saw 20,000 people join the first organised mass protest by Black British people, and the Brixton Riots in April. 

A still from Small Axe
McQueen’s previous series, Small Axe, dramatised many of the events his new documentary series will explore, including the Brixton Riots.

In short, the focus of Uprising will closely interlink with the events and period explored in Small Axe, giving those who enjoyed the series a chance to learn more about the real people behind the stories which played out on screen.

Speaking about the new series, on which he will serve as director and executive producer, McQueen said it was an “honour” to make the films using “testimonials from the survivors, investigators, activists and representatives of the machinery of the state”.

McQueen continued: “We can only learn if we look at things through the eyes of everyone concerned; the New Cross Fire passed into history as a tragic footnote, but that event and its aftermath can now be seen as momentous events in our nation’s history.” 

James Rogan, who will also serve as director and executive producer alongside McQueen, added: “The New Cross Fire that claimed the lives of so many young people and affected many more remains one of the biggest losses of life in a house fire in modern British history.

“What happened and how Britain responded to it is a story that has been waiting to be told in depth for 40 years.”

He continued: “In the series, survivors and the key participants will give their account of the fire, the aftermath, the impact it had on the historic events of 1981 and the profound legacy it has left behind.” 

If the description and people involved with the series are anything to go by, this documentary series will likely be a powerful and insightful watch – and we can’t wait to see more of McQueen’s work make its way to our screens.

All three episodes of Uprising are available to watch on BBC iPlayer now. Episode two will air on BBC One on 27 July.

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Main Image: Denise Gooding, who was one of the youngest at the party, lost her brother in the New Cross fire.

Image Credits: BBC

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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