• Angus McGregor

2020 Film Review: Small Axe - Mangrove

Plot Synopsis: The true story of The Mangrove Nine, who clashed with London police in 1970. The trial that followed was the first judicial acknowledgement of behaviour motivated by racial hatred within the Metropolitan Police.

The first film of Steve McQueen’s five-part series diving into the experience of black people living in the U.K., Mangrove takes a look at the trial of the “Mangrove 9”, a group of black activists targeted by the Metropolitan Police, motivated by racial prejudice. In regards to the worlds current climate, not only is this an excellent piece of drama, but an extremely essential feature for us all to see.

With the content matter of this film, it isn’t hard to get caught up emotionally with the events of the film. Straightaway, the viewer is subject to some truly appalling scenes with senseless raids producing some horrifying moments. The brutal nature combined with the smug police officers and desperate civilians brings some harrowing scenes that can be tough to watch but are wholly necessary for the telling of this story. What is particularly impressive regarding the direction in these moments is that it never dives too far towards an overly gory style, instead, relying on the raw emotion within the performances that shows the devastation caused to tremendous effect.

Following these events, the film dives into the complicated process of these individuals having to decide how to proceed from this point. Raising an alarming amount of issues regarding what to people like myself would have simple solutions, this is a real eye-opener as an insight to what minorities had to and still go through every day. McQueen shows perfectly how tough, infuriating and exhausting this constant cycle is for these people, especially with the lack of a solution. Tension is built immensely throughout the film, even without the villains as the aspects of family and personal safety cause main characters to bump heads with one another on a number of occasions. This ensures a great feeling of pressure on the shoulders of each character, regardless of if they’re being harassed or not as it seems like if it’s not now, then it’s only a matter of time.

This level of intensity continues to build through to the courtroom, with McQueen giving Aaron Sorkin a run for his money with a series of exceptional scenes involving legal proceedings. Supported by some stellar performance; a tense exchange between Letitia Wright and Shaun Parkes the pick of the bunch, the courtroom drama truly excels with brilliant writing getting the viewer caught up in all the action. These exchanges bring some truly empowering moments as the truth comes clear, with the performances truly shining as the defendants fight back against a corrupt system.

As previously mentioned, the entire cast shines with star-making performances from Wright, Parkes and Malachi Kirby. The pure emotion shown from each of the defendants comes through in devastating manner as the viewer is giving a perfect insight as to how these people fought tooth and nail against the injustices out in front of them. It is clear to see how passionate this set of actors and actresses are revolving their topic as they hold nothing back in what are some of the years most impactful performances.

Mangrove highlights a great issue within the U.K. history that not many people will have extensive knowledge of here in Britain. In the U.K., our schools avoid discussing these kinds of issues which has clearly led to an abundance of naivety regarding racial issues in this country. We like to look across the pond and look at the situations in America and distance ourselves from this but this film and the others in this series will uncover horrifying stories that have been sheltered away from a large number of the population. This highlights exactly how important it is for stories like this to be told, especially from outlets like the BBC who have a duty to give the best reflection of our histories, positive or negative.

Available now on BBC iPlayer for those situated within the U.K. free of charge, Mangrove is a fantastically executed and informative piece from Steve McQueen. This feature will undoubtedly draw great emotion due to its content and excellent performances whilst helping shed light on a social issues history we need to continue educating ourselves on. A phenomenal piece and one of the best of the year, Mangrove is one that cannot be missed.

Final Rating: 4.5/5

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