The opening shot of a grey-haired woman of colour sitting next to a surfboard on the beach watching the waves lashing on a bright sunny day is atypical and tells you that this show is about to convey a story that’s quite different to ones you may have already seen. She is Eleanor and her life is about to undergo a drastic change.
Cut to a young black man (Byron) talking to a group of students on career day about his work as an ocean scientist and how he learned to surf from his mother.
Benny is estranged from her family and doesn’t answer her brother Byron’s call when he tries to inform her of their mother’s accident and the surprising illness discovered as a result of being treated for the accident.
After a short time, Eleanor succumbs to her illness and the story quickly moves to the reading of her will. Byron and Benny want to get it over with. Feeliings of resentment from the dutiful son towards his flighty sister bring tension to the scene, but their mother has certain stipulations that prolong the preceedings. Firstly, there is Black Cake in the freezer that they must eat together when the time is right. The second is that they must hear her story, which she has recorded, and they must listen together in the presence of her lawyer.
Listening, they hear first and foremost that their mother was not an orphan and that Eleanor is not her real name, everything she has told them is a lie, and they must now learn the truth.
So the first episode of this drama begins, intrigue abounds and the episode continues to lay the foundations of a story that feels like it has promise and lots of things to explore.
In her recordings, Eleanor takes us through the journey of her life from a young age. This journey begins in the parish of Portland in Jamaica, has a middle passage situated in the UK and a final destination in the USA.
Eleanor is part of her school swim team with her best friend Bunny. Both girls dream of travelling the world as competitive swimmers. Eleanor’s life changes dramatically when a marriage is arranged by her father to the local money lender to whom he owes a great deal. The events that follow give her an opportunity that she must grab in order to secure her freedom, but this freedom comes at a cost.
Black Cake deals with a lot of tropes including that of alienation, acceptance and hardship. It delves into the lack of agency afforded to women of that era and explores attitudes around race, gender and sexuality.
“When I am another man’s property, you are dead to me” Eleanor speaking to her father before the marriage ceremony.
The series was created by: Marissa Jo Cerar and is adapted from the book Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson.
So far so good, I’ll continue watching and expand on this review once the limited series is complete.
Watch this space