As a part of his Small Axe anthology series for Amazon Prime, director Steve McQueen starts with a film that will likely go down as one of the best of the year. Featuring spell-binding performances and captivating direction, Mangrove warrants the attention of all during this film season.
For those unfamiliar with the true story set in the early 70s, Mangrove follows Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), the owner of a Notting Hill Caribbean restaurant that becomes a center for locals and activists. Local, racist police abuse their power to continuously harass and discriminate against the peaceful establishment. This abuse leads Frank to join a cause and protest in the streets. As Frank and other activists in Mangrove Nine face their oppressors in the court, the story turns into a full-blown courtroom drama, one that will surely captivate audiences from around the world.
The cast is a sight to behold from top to bottom. Parkes in particular is an absolute star; he displays a level of humanity as the owner of the “Mangrove” that takes the audience completely by storm. Elsewhere, we have Letitia Wright as Altheia Jones-Lecointe, a leader of the British Black Panther Movement, and proves once again she is a force of nature on screen. Although it’s unclear if the anthology series will be eligible, there is no doubt both deliver Oscar-worthy performances that rival the best of the best of 2020.
Malachi Kirby and Rochenda Sandall as Darcus Howe and Barbara Beese also shine in a supporting capacity. Several of the most powerful scenes in the film are as effective as they are thanks to these two performances. You feel their anger, frustration, and determination to seek justice. However, these aren’t flawless beings. Their internal and external conflicts create multi-dimensional characterizations of real people that struggled in their fight day in day out.
As one could imagine, the U.K.-centric narrative is socially relevant outside of its principal location. McQueen delivers a storyline to audiences just as the racial turmoil reaches dangerous heights in the United States. Although he is concerned with the history of the struggle for those who live in Great Britain, there’s no doubt that audiences in the West will feel its staggering potency.
The film’s confrontation with institutional racism and oppression doesn’t end with a concrete solution, and that’s okay. It is not solely up to McQueen and co. to solve the problems that plague society to this day. In fact, the reoccurring theme in this anthology is portraying a series of perspectives that display the ugly truth decades in the making. That being said, Mangrove accomplishes this without making the audience feel hopeless.
McQueen’s anthology series as a whole is looking to be a must-watch. However, Mangrove is its most engrossing and complete project. On top of impressive direction and writing, the incredible cast carries the film to extraordinary heights. Its societal implications are more relevant than ever, which doesn’t make Mangrove an easy watch. But I implore you to go out of your way to see it. I have a bad feeling it will end up being one of the least talked-about films of 2020 despite being one of its best. – Marcos Melendez
Mangrove is set to premiere on Amazon Prime on November 20, 2020.