BFI LFF 2020: Mangrove (2020)

Mangrove, part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe canon, is a grippingly acted reconstruction of police racism in 1970 Notting Hill, the iconic café and the courtroom sensation of the prosecution of the Mangrove Nine.

We fought the law

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Mangrove is part of the Small Axe anthology series, which comprises five original films by Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame, 12 Years A Slave, Widows).

Set from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, these five films each tell a different story involving London’s West Indian community, whose lives have been shaped by their own force of will, despite rampant racism and discrimination.

Even though this collection of films is set some decades ago, the stories are as vital and timely today as they were for the West Indian community in London at the time. Small Axe is a celebration of Black joy, beauty, love, friendship, family, music and even food; each one, in its own unique way, conveys hard-won successes, bringing hope and optimism for 2020.

Mangrove recreates the real-ife-characters of the time. The period detail is faultless. All the leads are brilliantly portrayed: they include Shaun Parkes as determined and resolute Mangrove owner Frank Critchlow; Letitia Wright as militant activist Altheia Jones-LeCointe; Malachi Kirby as Trinidadian lawyer Darcus Howe; and Rochena Sandall as Black Power activist Barbara Beese.

The Nine battled against shameful racist police persecution and eventually won their day in court. Steve McQueen deserves whatever plaudits are going for his stunning efforts in Mangrove and throug Small Axe to ensure that recent British history is not sanitised over time.

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