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Review: Mangrove [London Film Festival]

October 21, 2020
Mangrove - Steve McQueen

This year many industries had to make some (drastic) changes, and the film industry (and the whole entertainment industry) was one of them. Releases postponed, filming temporary suspended and film festival needing to adapt. Many film festivals went online, and some were cancelled entirely. The BFI Film Festival took it to another level as they decided to host a hybrid edition with both physical and online screenings. Despite all the changes, there’s still one thing you can count on, and that’s an impressive line-up. The opening night film Mangrove by director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) is the perfect example of that. After his Widows in 2018, McQueen is returning to the festival with an even more impressive and extremely relevant movie.

Taking place in the ’70 but never as relevant as now

Today, on the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, conversations and about injustice and racism are at the forefront of conversation, making Mangrove a very timely film. After having to close his previous bar, Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes) is now opening his Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill. The restaurant isn’t only black-owned, but it’s also the place where the entire black community comes together to have a great time and enjoy Caribbean cuisine. The film does a great job of conveying the intimidation tactics and the Metropolitan Police used against the afro-Caribbean residents in Nottinghill, West London. As part of that, we see Frank’s friends and family are being harassed, and the numerous raids on his restaurant – and the burden that comes with this.

The more the police brutality increases, the more the black community stands up for their rights, and the more Mangrove becomes the place for activist meetings. Amongst the attendees are Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), Altheia Jones-Lecointe (Letitia Wright), Barbara Beese (Rochenda Sandall) and Frank himself. After many small riots, the black community organises a protest, on 9 August 1970, during which 150 people march to the local police station. Sadly, that results in a massive clash between the police and the Mangrove Nine, and that was the start of the 11-weeks lasting trial between Pc Frank Pulley (Sam Spruell) and the Metropolitan police and the “Mangrove Nine”. A trial that was a watershed moment in “race relations” within the UK.

Letitia Wright as Altheia Jones-Lecointe in Mangrove.
(Source: BBC)

Oscar-worthy film for many reasons

While Mangrove is being screened at film festivals around the world, it’s actually part of the BBC’s Small Axe series. We hope that the movies in that series will be eligible for the many award ceremonies because if so, Mangrove should be nominated in many Oscar categories.

The main categories would, without a doubt, be the acting ones. Wright (Black Panther) excels as Jones-LaCointe, the headstrong, feisty and supportive representative of the Black Panthers. Wright brings the dialogues with so much power and dignity that they will go straight to your heart. That protest speech is one we will never forget. Another standout in this movie is Parkes (Trick or Treat). Thanks to his performance, we feel the pain, the determination and the courageousness of Frank. The further the story goes, the more impactful the emotions become. His last scene in court will bring tears to your eyes.

The stunning cast of Mangrove
(Source: BBC)

They’re surrounded by an immensely strong cast of which every member brings raw emotions to the screen in his or her unique way. Spruell (Outlaw King) his performance as Pully is also on point. We feel the corruptive, violent and mischievousness characteristics of Pully coming through the screen. We also want to applaud the smaller but still memorable performances by from Llewella Gideon (Second Coming) and Jack Lowden (Dunkirk). Gideon’s portrayal as Aunt Betty, the witty, funny and blunt cook from the Mangrove, and Lowden performance as the barrister of the Mangrove Nine, bring a bit light to this extremely rough story.

We wouldn’t be surprised if the movie would also be selected in categories involving costume design, production design and original screenplay. Saying that McQueen and his crew bring such an authentic vibe to this movie would be an understatement. The real and genuine element is represented by the combination of the 35mm film shot by Shabier Kirchner (Only You), the brilliant period costumes designed by Lisa Duncan (Peripheral) and the fantastic production design provided by Helen Scott (Dark River). From the very first scene of the Rio, in which men are enjoying gambling, smoking and drinking, to the very last one, in which black and white people come together in the Mangrove, it all feels exceptionally authentic.

Impactful triumph

While Mangrove will be only available at the small screen for the moment, we hope that it finds its way to the cinemas. Not only because of its extremely relevance but also for the immense authenticity and strong performances.

Mangrove will premiere on BBC One and iPlayer on the 15th of November.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Mangrove (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Review: Kajillionaire [London Film Festival]

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