LFF 2020: Mangrove – Review

Release Date – 15 November 2020, Run-time – 2 hours 6 minutes, Director – Steve McQueen

After multiple racist police attacks around the Mangrove restaurant a group of local figures and regulars get together to stage a protest, after ending violently they find themselves on trial, fighting for their futures and equality.

Much like the internal feelings of its characters Steve McQueen’s Mangrove is a swirling cocktail of emotions. As you get caught up within the infectiously joyful celebrations of music and dancing in the streets outside the titular Mangrove restaurant you’re soon knocked down with fear and emotion as the police enter the situation. Frank Crichlow (a magnificent Shaun Parkes!) runs the landmark meeting place where local West Indians living in or near Notting Hill frequent. Since its opening in 1968 the business, and its visitors, have been subject to endless racist raids from the local police, led by the cruel, unjust and unprovoked PC Pulley (Sam Spruell) – a figure who causes the blood to rage and boil at his sneering, overbearing behaviour and attitude. All instantly shattering the weightless uplift of the limitlessly enlivening parties that, even more joyously, start from a small spark from almost nowhere.

After many months of putting up with this a number of key local figures, including British Black Panther Movement leader Altheia Jones (Letitia Wright), stage a protest in response to their mistreatment and suffering. However, these actions soon end in further violent attacks. As with the bright energy of the street celebrations McQueen’s direction of the chaos that unfolds during these moments of violence emphasises the rapid nature of the events, while also managing to display their true impact. With each cut to a new angle, character and focus the viewer is made aware of what is happening to individual people as they, along with the characters, find themselves lost in the mess of the unfolding battle – tragically reflecting events we still witness today, allowing for such moments to have an even greater punch.

It’s not long until select members of the group – being named as The Mangrove Nine – find themselves on trial, trying to save their futures and avoid prison simply for their fight for equality. While there does seem to be a tonal shift for this second hour the quality is still upheld. McQueen’s finely scripted courtroom drama is fantastically paced, lingering on each vital element, allowing the audience to relish every carefully-sculpted word that the characters utter. Wanting to see them succeed, but worrying that in a 1970 court, and police witnesses lying to uphold their reputation over anything else, things are unlikely to swing in their favour. During a shot of the ceiling of The Old Bailey court the word “Truth” sticks out, remaining in the mind of the viewer. As anger rises in the courtroom, fuelled further by the fantastic performances from the entire cast, the tension also increases. You feel each knockback for the characters, not to mention their hope and burning passion. All kept in place by the ever wonderful direction of Steve McQueen.

While there might be a slight tonal shift about half way through there’s still a brilliant passionately told story at the heart of Mangrove. Told and performed with care, thought and a sense of urgency McQueen, along with the entire cast and crew, has created an engaging, lively, emotional, tense and even at times humorous within its joy. A celebration of identity, urging for equality with a loudly beating heart that brings you in for an affecting, engaging and finely tuned work of cinema. This is truly something great, accessible for all and something that should certainly be seen by all.

Steve McQueen refuses to calm down and with Mangrove he proves that he is consistently always at the top of his game. A fantastically directed, scripted and performed film – with a standout performance from Shaun Parkes – this is an emotional celebration of identity, power and so much more.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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