DIRECTED BY: Steve McQueen
STARRING: Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr., Gary Beadlie, Jack Lowden, Sam Spruell, Alex Jennings, Llewella Gideon, Nathaniel Martello-White, Richie Campbell, Jumayn Hunter, Joseph Quinn, Derek Griffiths, Jodhi May, Samuel West, Richard Cordery, Thomas Coombes, Tyrone Huggins, Tahj Miles, Michelle Greenidge, Doreen Ingleton and Tayo Jarrett
Based on a true story, Mangrove focuses on Frank Crichlow, whose West Indian restaurant, Mangrove, was a lively community hub in London’s Notting Hill that attracted locals, activists, intellectuals and artists. In a reign of blatant racial discrimination, Frank Crichlow finds himself and his drug-free business the brunt of relentless police raids. In a bid to stop the discrimination and ruination of their community base, Frank and his friends take to the streets in peaceful protest in 1970, only to be met by police aggression. As a result, nine men and women, including Frank, leader of the British Black Panther Movement Altheia Jones-LeCointe, and activist Darcus Howe, are wrongly arrested and charged with incitement to riot and affray. A highly publicised trial ensues, leading to a hard-fought win.
Mangrove is part of the upcoming Small Axe anthology series, comprising of five original films from director Steve McQueen. Frank Crichlow opens the West Indian restaurant Mangrove in 1968 in Notting Hill’s All Saints Road, a restaurant that attracted locals, activists, intellectuals and arts, and it quickly provided a home base for the black community to support each other. However, Crichlow and the Mangrove become the brunt of relentless police raids led by Pc Frank Pulley. In an attempt to stop the discrimination and ruination of the Mangrove, Frank and his friends hold a peaceful protest on the streets in 1970, only to be met by the brute force of the Metropolitan Police and as a result, led to the trial of the Mangrove Nine who were arrested and charged with incitement to riot and affray.
A passion project that was initially conceived as a television series project by Steve McQueen, the Small Axe anthology series soon evolved into standalone films, highlighting the West Indian community’s experience in London, with the first being this film based on the true story of the Mangrove Nine. While casual film viewers will usually be lured and enticed by going for the summer blockbusters or the directors that will give you drama and spectacle on an epic scale, Steve McQueen has been meticulous with his craft of filmmaking with features such as Hunger, Shame, 12 Years A Slave and most recently Widows, earning him critical acclaim, accolades and adoration from film lovers. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to those that familiar of his filmography that Mangrove could arguably be his best work yet, particularly with the level of precision that has gone into this film. With delicate pacing, the first half of the film has you engrossed in the setting of Notting Hill, as we see the Westway dual carriageway being built in the background throughout the process of the late 60’s to 1970. We see how the Mangrove became a safe haven for other West Indians to meet, eat, drink and at times dance in the street. Leering from a distance however is the racist, bigoted Metropolitan Police officer PC Frank Pulley, who obsessively makes it his objective to disrupt the Mangrove business and cause as much abusive use of power of possible as he and his squad constantly raid and destroy the Mangrove, with Pulley using the excuse of Fritchlow’s last place of business, the Rio, being known for illegitimate activities before being shut down. It’s these sequences seeing a busy restaurant being spontaneously sent into chaos with the sudden emergence of the metropolitan police that are very effectively done, particularly in how McQueen deliberately lingers on one long framed shot of a steel colander rattling on the floor after being knocked down in the kitchen during a raid and how the scene holds and only comes to an end once it comes to a stop. Once we get to the pinnacle of the protest turning ugly, the second half of the film focuses on the trial and that is where the ensemble also really get to shine.
Shaun Parkes gives an excellent performance as Frank Crichlow, the owner of the Mangrove, who ends up becoming an activist by association with his customers and members of the community, who get involved in the protest as they are more than aware of the brutally and stronghold PC Pulley has in the area he patrols. Frank is an interesting character to watch, a man whose proudly happy of the initial success, and seeing how that is, quite literally, beaten out of him to the point of depression and, a man who gambles, at one point tries to wager the restaurant but no one even wants that due to the number of raids affecting the business. It’s the scenes of anger and frustration of being neglected by a system that is set-up for him to fail and how the trial is proceeding that Parkes really shines through. Letitia Wright also gives a great performance as Altheia Jones-Lecointe, the leader of British Black Panther Movement and trade who represented herself on trial, as did Darcus Howe who is portrayed by an excellent Malachi Kirby, allowing the defendants to have a voice and cross-examine the witnesses, particularly the police officers (including Pulley) that stated they were responsible for the riot. Often these trial sequences could become overdramatic in execution, but in the scenes which Jones-Lecointe and Howe cross-examine the witnesses that provide the crowd-cheering moments of vindication, as expose loopholes and demonstrate how certain statements in their testimony are implausible. Jack Lowden also gives a great performance as Ian MacDonald, the barrister for the defendants who gleefully riles up Judge Edward Clarke, tackling an outdated court system. Sam Spruell can be the nicest man around, but he is utterly compelling as the villainous PC Pulley and gives a really good performance, Rochenda Sandall is also great as Barbara Reese. The cinematography by Shabier Kirchner is great, particularly in the scene involving a characters monologue in a cell and the slowly moving close-up during the verdict reading. The score from Mica Levi is great as well.
If Mangrove is any indication of what to expect from the rest of the Small Axe anthology series, then we’re in for some special indeed. Mangrove is a terrific film that’s well-paced, subtly directed and the ensemble is excellent, especially Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright and Malachi Kirby.