Mangrove – Steve McQueen revolutionises courtroom drama while denouncing police brutality ★★★★★

Mangrove is one of a five-part series of period films by Steve McQueen about London’s West Indian community. The movie features a real-life injustice followed by the notorious Mangrove Nine case in 1970 that exposed police harassment towards the West Indian community in Notting Hill. It was a case that exposed the difficulty of racial justice in the seventies and, ultimately, racial prejudice in the Metropolitan police which made national history. 

The Mangrove is a restaurant owned by Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes) who is keen to make a new start, having developed a reputation of being involved with dodgy clubs. For the West Indian community, The Mangrove is an important space where people of the community can meet safely, express ideas, drink, laugh, and enjoy traditional cuisine. The police carry out numerous raids led by PC Frank Pulley (Sam Spruell) who continuously destroys furniture in The Mangrove for no other reason than deep-seated racial prejudice. The West Indian residents do not rise to such a threat from the police and fully embrace life, determined to keep The Mangrove open and have fun at the Notting Hill Carnival. The set-design brings a vibrancy to the lives of West Indian communities in London and the beautifully composed shots of food, song, and dance establish a fantastic sense of place and time. 

As such, The Mangrove becomes a site of conflict between the community and the police, resulting in the police launching a campaign of harassment against The Mangrove and its owner, Crichlow. After launching an anti-police protest which subsequently becomes violent Crichlow and eight other members of the neighbourhood are arrested resulting in a trial at the Old Bailey. 

Initially, Crichlow is presented as a complex and unwilling hero. Parkes’ performance is perfect. He is able to present a fit of anger at one moment and silent contemplation in another but is matched by Letitia Wright, who plays British Black Panther leader Altheia Jones-LeCointe and portrays her with all the grace and ferocity her character requires. 

The ensemble in Mangrove is powerful and serves as a powerful reminder that police brutality is a battle we are still confronting in the present. While this story is based in the UK, its message is a universal one that touches and concerns us all. 

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