Ever wanted a glimpse inside someone else’s family secrets? That’s exactly the slice of drama that Hulu’s new series Black Cake serves up. This limited series takes the rich and mysterious storytelling of an Agatha Christie novel and combines it with the intimate family bonds of This Is Us.
We follow a brother and sister, Byron and Benny, as they unravel the hidden truths about their recently deceased mom Eleanor. Through a series of posthumous recordings she left them, the grieving siblings discover their mom grew up in 1960s Jamaica under a different name—Covey. Turns out, Eleanor wasn’t the woman they thought they knew at all.
As Byron and Benny dive deeper into the tapes, we’re plunged back in time through flashbacks to experience Covey’s coming-of-age story firsthand. From sunny Jamaica beaches to the overcast streets of London, it’s a journey packed with young love, competitive swimming dreams, heartbreaking loss, dangerous gangsters, a mysterious murder, and worlds of personal reinvention.
So pull up a chair and grab a strong cup of tea – the secrets baked inside this family tale are piping hot and best consumed slowly. Savor the rich performances and cinematography as the truth about Eleanor rises to the surface.
Delving into the Layers of Family Secrets
Black Cake quickly pulls us into a family mystery centered around Eleanor, a mother who recently passed from cancer. She left behind cassette tapes unveiling her hidden past for grieving children Byron and Benny to unravel. As they press play, we’re transported back to Eleanor’s 1960s Jamaican childhood when she went by Covey.
Bright swimming talent Covey finds her ambitious dreams darkened when her father marries her off to an older gangster to settle his gambling debts. But the union ends abruptly when someone poisons the groom at their reception. Covey seizes the moment to fake her death and flee the island by stowing away on a ship bound for England.
What follows is a poignant saga of reinvention fueled by survival as Covey sheds her name and identity, enduring tragedy and turmoil as an immigrant in 1960s London. Just when stability seems within reach, another layer of secrets further upends her life.
The series fluidly interweaves Eleanor’s gritty backstory with the present-day perspective of her mourning children. However, the contemporary family drama feels lightweight, failing to resonate as deeply. The exceptions come through nuanced themes around grief, race, and sexual identity that organically emerge through Benny’s character.
But the soul of this series rests squarely on the fiery charisma of Mia Isaac as our heroine Covey. She’s a magnetic force, skillfully evolving from cocky, dream-chasing teenager to reserved, watchful young woman. It’s impossible to peel your eyes away, eager to uncover whatever the next chapter of her thrilling, devastating, inspirationally resilience-filled life will reveal.
So while the murder mystery feels almost irrelevant, it hands us the passport to escape into this rich portrait of one remarkable woman’s globetrotting journey toward freedom and self-discovery.
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Complex Characters Bring the Story to Life
At the heart of Black Cake’s appeal lies its richly drawn characters, brought vividly to life through standout performances. As our fiercely determined heroine Covey, Mia Isaac displays wisdom beyond her years, injecting the teenage swimmer with an intoxicating blend of grit, passion, and terrified vulnerability as she’s forced to grow up too fast. Despite limited screen time, Isaac’s chemistry with her best friend Bunny (Lashay Anderson) transcends the story’s decade, capturing that rare, fierce loyalty between Black women.
In the present timeline, Adrienne Warren channels impressive depth as grief-stricken, messy artist Benny. Warren peels back emotional layers slowly, bringing cathartic new dimension to Benny’s initial unlikeability. As her estranged oceanographer brother Byron, Ashley Thomas showcases intellectual appeal, yet lacks complexity.
While the elder Eleanor remains elusive, Chipo Chung’s gentle narration resonates with bittersweet wisdom. And as family lawyer Charles, Glynn Turman’s gravitas grounds scenes with graceful composure. He represents the patience and understanding all the characters yearn for.
These rich portrayals keep the plot intriguing despite uneven pacing, steering an evocative course through loss, reinvention and the eternal ripples of personal choice.
A Visual Feast with Musical Missteps
Even when Black Cake stumbles narratively, its sumptuous visual language never fails to captivate. We’re treated to dazzling cinematography from start to finish, fluidly gliding from the sun-drenched vibrance of 1960s Jamaica to the cold, shadowy aesthetic of London. The sharp color contrast between these paralleling worlds proves symbolic, underscoring Covey’s jarring transition from carefree teenager to isolated immigrant.
Beyond lush scenery, playful editing choices add dynamism to routine scenes. Imaginative transitions, slow motion sequences, and compelling framing mean every moment pops with style. And the extravagant costuming consistently impresses, with era-appropriate ensembles transporting us convincingly through the decades.
If only the music matched the mastery of the show’s visual presentation. While the Caribbean-inspired score adds tropical flavor early on, it soon fades into bland background hums. Quieter dramatic moments beg for the slight addition of poignant strings or gentle piano to accentuate the formidable performances. Yet too often, immense emotional climaxes arrive accompanied by minimal audio atmosphere.
Still, moments where sight and sound fully sync exemplify sublime cinematic storytelling. For the most part, Black Cake remains a feast for the eyes, if not always the ears.
Unpacking the Thematic Layers
At its core, Black Cake is a conceptual feast, serving up insightful commentary on the echoes of personal history through potent themes involving identity, trauma, and truth. By framing Eleanor’s revelations as a “black cake” for her children to unpack, the story itself becomes symbolic of her concealed layers now brought to light. This unique narrative device proves emotionally effective, directly inviting the audience into the catharsis of her cathartic disclosures.
We witness Eleanor bury traumatic events in order to survive, adopting new names and personas, only to have the past resurface later in life. It’s a nuanced exploration of compartmentalization – the sacrifices made for self-preservation and fresh starts. Can we outrun our formative experiences? Or do secrets and suppressed identity have an expiration date?
The ocean also flows through the series as an eloquent metaphor, representing the main characters’ connections to meaning and freedom – albeit differently across generations. For Covey, it’s a gateway to chasing dreams and self-discovery. While for her son Byron, it represents habitual escape that cannot quell confrontations about race and self-worth in America.
These reflective narrative layers give the show ballast, steering viewers to contemplate our own relationship with familial inheritance, forgiveness, and restless reinvention.
A Must-Watch Slice of Cinematic Storytelling
At its core, Black Cake is a treat for fans of emotionally driven period drama and charming character studies. While the murder mystery creates crucial momentum, it’s our heroine Covey who steers the voyage, transforming before our eyes from lovestruck teen to guarded stowaway. Mia Isaac brings Covey to life with intoxicating spirit and depth, crafting an Oscar-worthy revelatory performance that alone makes this series a must-see.
Yet what makes Black Cake such a delicious viewing experience is how we slowly uncover more than just Covey’s story. Through symbolically potent themes and Eleanor’s “black cake” recordings, the show invites thoughtful engagement with universal truths about family legacies, identity evolution, and personal resilience. Even occasional narrative weaknesses fade to background noise thanks to an abundance of visual splendor, Soul-stirring song choices would lift an already phenomenal production, yet don’t deter from powerful moments.
So pull up a cozy blanket and prepare to savor this rich family portrait studded with secrets. Let Mia Isaac dazzle as Covey while the story marinates in your mind long after the end credits. Because Black Cake serves up the kind of nuanced, culturally resonant fare we could use more of – where dynamic female-led period dramas interweave past and present into one satisfyingly sweet bite.
Black Cake simmers with standout style and performances, serving up an artfully crafted story exploring family bonds, the echoes of personal history, and the resilience of the human spirit. Centered around Mia Isaac’s star-making turn, it makes for a satisfying binge worth savoring.
- Captivating lead performance by Mia Isaac
- Evocative period drama visuals and costumes
- Thematic depth exploring identity and familial bonds
- Strong supporting cast (Adrienne Warren, Glynn Turman)
- Suspenseful unfolding of central mystery
- Uneven/slow-paced plotting
- Underdeveloped present-day family drama
- Mediocre, forgettable musical score
- Murder mystery resolution underwhelming
- Ambitious adapting a complex novel