Mangrove, part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology series, is a fiery and provocative piece of cinema. Centering around a Notting Hill-based West Indian restaurant named ‘Mangrove’, it’s another pivotal story in McQueen’s collection that explores the Black British experience. Like Lover’s Rock, Mangrove is told through a unique perspective; based on the real-life story of the Mangrove 9, a group of Black activists who were arrested and sent to court, resulting in the first judicial acknowledgment of racial discrimination within UK law enforcement.
There is an urgency to McQueen’s filmmaking and Mangrove is an essential viewing, his voice is ever-present and ferociously powerful. There is true meaning to his work here as it’s not only incredibly timely, but defiant of the status-quo. Harshness litters the screen, McQueen doesn’t hide one minutia of the callous and cruel disregard for Black lives by the Metropolitan Police. The bluntness in depicting the brutality and unjust handling of Notting Hill’s Black community truly captivates, you are always actively engaged and in the hands of a master filmmaker.
We follow Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), the owner and operator of Notting Hill’s newly-found restaurant. After countless raids on the Mangrove, Frank and fellow community figures have enough and take to the streets demanding “Hands off the Mangrove”. The protests become violent with Metropolitan Police attacking the peaceful protesters, which leads to the arrest of the Mangrove 9. Frank is among those 9 who are set on trial for conspiracy to riot.
Finding the words to talk about one of the most impactful films of the year is no easy task. Mangrove is an experience; a cinematic treasure of defiance, it almost transcends just being a film. McQueen’s message is ingrained in the film’s DNA, nothing is mishandled, every little nuance or expressive piece of dialogue is conveyed perfectly. Simultaneously, there is a harmony to Mangrove‘s fiery directive on the Black British experience with police and its beautiful examination of West Indian culture. McQueen’s characters are lively and full of life, its energy courses with real, unfiltered passion that’s evoked through performance and direction.
You can’t help but feel hatred for the injustices seen, McQueen effectively depicts the vitriolic police and the oppression faced. Perhaps, you could see this as commendation to McQueen’s ability of digging into vitally dark places to only pull out pure unadulterated emotion from the spectator. While, he equally brings personality and passion to the story’s protagonists. The cast is impeccable. We see Letitia Wright in her most fantastic performance yet, while Shaun Parkes spearheads the ensemble, powering the soul of Mangrove. Additionally, Malachi Kirby gives some of the most exceedingly fervent moments of the year.
Once more, Small Axe‘s lead-cinematographer Shabier Kirchner captures alluring elegance and grace in the most engrossing of moments. Whether it be a riveting street party or eating a fine meal at the Mangrove, what’s visualized is simply striking. His and McQueen’s choice to shoot on film stock brings texture and further life into the film. The characters don’t feel performed, they feel real and a lot of that is down to Mangrove‘s exceptional cinematography. Startling images conjure an impassioned response that emphasize the extremities seen; from the use of canted angles, close-ups, and long-takes. Everything has a purpose, electrifying and masterful filmmaking is what’s on show.
Mangrove is an unprecedented piece of British cinema. Steve McQueen brings his entire spirit to this wonderfully impassioned and blazing film. Both provocative and graceful, Mangrove will undoubtedly go down in the books.