BFI LFF 2020: Mangrove – Film Review

Bursting with both anger and passion, Steve McQueen’s new film Mangrove opens up the BFI London Film Festival with a truthful bang, solidifying that we all have the responsibility to be anti-racist and so much more.

We are introduced to Notting Hill in the late 1960s/early 70s, very different to the romanticised location we see in modern films. A restaurant becomes home to the local West Indian people; however, they soon start to receive hate and harassment from the police. Mangrove, part of Steve McQueen’s anthology series, tells the forgotten story of the Mangrove Restaurant owner Frank Crichlow and eight of his friends who were sent to trial, blamed for riots that were apparently started by their peaceful protests. Over recent years, real stories have overtaken fictional ones on our TV and cinema screens, but it really is moving to see truth and power, rather than fiction all the time. It’s so important for not well-known stories to be chosen in my opinion. Sure, it’s nice to have a little more detail on topics we’re already familiar with, but to be introduced to new voices really is a treat, especially if it’s a film like this.

Frank Crichlow, played by Shaun Parkes, grabs onto our heartstrings from the start. As he walks through what seems to be a dystopian Notting Hill compared to today, we can see the landscape of London, and what to expect in the film. We fall in love with his business and his family and start to understand how being black at the time can be a bigger danger than more serious crimes as the characters talk about. I was really pulled in by Shaun’s performance, really getting into the headspace of his life and what he was going through.

The rest of the Mangrove Nine are truly forces to be reconned with. When I see films like this, fact or fiction, it reminds me how we are strong in numbers, whether there’s nine people, or one hundred times that. With the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as other protests that are taking place over the world right now, it’s obviously awful to know that we have been fighting the bad for so long, but incredible to hear of groups, no matter how small they are in number, standing up for themselves and bringing change. Seeing Letitia Wright as Altheia Jones-LeConte really moved me, pushing me to not just sit and actually do more. I know this is how I feel, so it’s amazing to imagine how young black people who are really bringing power to the movement will see courage in this, giving them the hope that they need to keep pushing for justice and change.

I wasn’t put off by the two-hour runtime, but it did make me wonder about the layout of the film and how much of it would focus on the trial. I’m really glad that we saw as much of it as we did, with as much truth as we could have. No matter how tough things got, we were able to see the good stand up for themselves and their lives, just how it would’ve been. However, I’m glad that a cool editing style was chosen to mirror the soundtrack (which was utterly perfect), bringing something to shake up the trial halfway through.

Watching something like this makes me feel awful inside, a contrast from the inspiration I spoke about, but I can’t just lie and say the whole thing lifted my spirits and be done with it. To know when it was set but to understand that things like this still take place is soul destroying. As a white person, that’s how I feel, so I can’t even begin to understand how something like this would make me feel if the colour of my skin was different. To know that important films like this are being funded and made by black creatives, whether they’re a work of crazy fiction, or they look into real stories, really does give me hope for the future. We need to see true stories like this on our screens and discuss the topics they bring up, whether the people around us like it or not. I hope this powerful new piece keeps the conversation going, and as McQueen has done with this, dedicate what is being spoken about to black people everywhere who have been murdered, unseen or unheard. This trial went well compared to so many others, yet we still need more.

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