Steve McQueen has done it again. Perhaps the most significant and consistent modern British director, McQueen once again brings us a riveting, vital piece of filmmaking, this time telling the true story of the Mangrove Nine. As it so often is with McQueen’s work, Mangrove is timely and powerful, without ever regressing to speaking down to its audience.
Mangrove depicts the trial of the Mangrove Nine as well as the protest that led to the criminal charges for the participants. Frank (Shaun Parkes) has just opened his new restaurant Mangrove, but suffers from constant police harassment, especially from Constable Pulley, a Disney villain in the making if there ever was one. Pulley and his men continuously and systematically tear down the Mangrove in their raids and Frank has had enough. They arrange a protest, but nine participants are arrested and face trial at the Old Bailey.
McQueen directs the story masterfully, being able to find solid pacing within individual scenes that makes Mangrove so impressive. He is helped by a staggeringly good cast, especially Shaun Parkes and Letitia Wright. They both communicate such anger and frustration but also disappointment towards the system that should protect them equally. Wright is awarded more emotionally heightened, big moments, but Parkes’ work here is nothing short of incredible. A special mention must also be granted to Malachi Kirby, who portrays Darcus Howe with power and stability.
Mangrove is as shocking as it is unsurprising. It’s difficult not to view it through the lens of everything that has happened in 2020 and while some scenes feel appalling, they also feel terrifyingly familiar. Everything in Mangrove still rings true, despite the film portraying events that happened over 50 years ago.
While McQueen’s work has always been urgent and integral, Mangrove feels particularly potent. It’s McQueen at his most defiant and angry, but also perhaps at his most accessible. The film also feels almost gleeful when showcasing the blatant racism and insanity that the Mangrove Nine had to face and so many others still have to battle daily.
But where the is injustice and racism, there is also a lot of warmth and spirit. Mangrove isn’t a depressing film, but a smart and lively one. There is sly humour sprinkled in and scenes inside the Mangrove evoke a sense of a community unlike any other. This is a film that wants to uplift you, make you see the power in protesting and community, rather than bring you down. It shows the power in people, power in unity and mangrove might just be one of the finest film we will see in the rest of 2020.
While Mangrove doesn’t have that boldness that Widows or Shame had, the film becomes more powerful due to McQueen’s occasional and wisely chosen restraint. The film doesn’t have to use cheap filmmaking choices to manipulate you when the story and cast are this strong but make no mistake; this is a McQueen film through and through. His direction brings everything together and carries the film, which leaves a profound mark on the viewer.
Dir: Steve McQueen
Scr: Steve McQueen, Alastair Siddons
Cast: Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall
Prd: Anita Overland, Michael Elliott
DOP: Shabier Kirchner
Music: Mica Levi
Runtime: 126 min
Mangrove plays as part of BFI London Film Festival before arriving on BBC One November 15 in the UK.