It is 1948 in an England still shaken by war. At 21 Nevern Street, London, Queenie Bligh takes into her house lodgers who have recently arrived from Jamaica. What else could she do when her husband, Bernard, never returned from his RAF wartime posting to India? Among her tenants are Gilbert and his new wife Hortense. Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England after the war he finds himself treated very differently now that he is no longer in a blue uniform. Desperation makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door. Hortense shared Gilbert's dream of leaving Jamaica and coming to England to start a better life. But when she at last joins her husband, she is shocked by London's shabbiness and horrified at the way the English live. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was.
Queenie's neighbours do not approve of her choice of tenants, and neither would her husband, were he there. Through the stories of these people, SMALL ISLAND explores a point in England's past when the country began to change.