Mangrove: BFI London Film Festival Movie Review

Mangrove: BFI London Film Festival Movie Review

Director: Steve McQueen

Writers: Alastair Siddons, Steve McQueen

Producers: Michael Elliott, Anita Overland

Starring: Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Jack Lowden

See more of our BFI London Film Festival Coverage here.


I was initially conflicted as to whether I should write on Mangrove. I am British, but I am not black. This story and its legacy do not belong to me, and I don’t want to offer comments where it is not my place to do so. That being said, while I can never understand the ongoing trauma of this film, I believe I can offer comment on the artistry of the film making on the platform that I have been afforded. In doing so, I may be able to encourage someone to watch this film who may in turn be as moved by it as I was. If I can do that, then writing this was a good choice. 

Here, I have included links to reviews of Mangrove that are written by non-white reviewers. If you want to bail out at this point and read their views instead, I encourage you to do so:

Descant Deb @ The British Blacklist

Amon Warmann @ NME 

Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller @ FilmDaze

Rogan Graham @ Little White Lies

The Mangrove 9

Mangrove provides a thoughtful and beautifully crafted retelling of the Mangrove 9 and their historic 55 day trial. The Mangrove 9 was comprised of Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Frank Crichlow (owner of the restaurant itself), Rhodan Gordon, Darcus Howe, Anthony Innis, Altheia Jones-LeCointe, Rothwell Kentish, and Godfrey Millett. The group was so named as they would meet in Frank’s Mangrove restaurant; a hub for the West Indian community in the area. Creatives and locals would flock to the establishment for good food and better spirit, though unfortunately they could enjoy neither in peace. The Mangrove Restaurant was a consistent target for police activity under flimsy guises. In truth, it was nothing but institutionalised, violent racism. 

55 Days in the Dock

McQueen handles this story in a way so few could. His considered, sensitive hand never strays away from what needs to be said and shown. As the Mangrove 9 and their supporters take to the streets in protest, the dynamism of McQueen’s filmmaking, along with the sound editing, score, and unbridled passion of the performances urge you to feel the thrum of building momentum. The movement is palpable. The aesthetics and atmosphere is created it by bit, and pays off in fell swoops.

It is in the courtroom scenes that McQueen, the cast, and the film itself truly come into their own. McQueen reminds us that Britain, no, England, is happy to point fingers with the left hand, while using the right to brush a bloody and violent history under the rug in the name of imagined myths of superiority. Same song as the USA, different verse.

While the films ending may feel like a raw, cathartic vindication and a dose of justice, it is not a win as big as it needed to be. the Mangrove 9 case marked the first judicial acknowledgement of behaviour motivated by racial hatred within the Metropolitan Police Force. This acknowledgement, however, couldn’t keep the brakes on. The Mangrove Restaurant and its patrons were still harassed and abused until the restaurants eventual closure. Fifty years later, marginalised groups are still fighting these battles.

Mangrove is a Victory in More Ways Than One

Performances from everyone involved are career-highlights. It is so luminously obvious that everyone involved in the making of this film used their whole heart and soul. Letitia Wright as Altheia Jones-LeCointe, a representative of the Black Panthers is glorious and brimming with emotion and determination. So, too, is Malachai Kirby as Darcus Howe. Kirby’s courtroom scenes swell your chest with hope and anger, with tension and frustration. His performance is nuanced and emotional – it’s art. 

Mangrove is an undeniable triumph. Luscious sepias and the warm, familial glow speak beyond just this film. So too, does the bruised but irrepressible hope. Part of Small Axe, Steve McQueen’s anthology project which will shed light on the voices and stories of black lives in Britain (to air on BBC and Amazon Prime in November) Mangrove is a truly vital film. Show this in schools to our children. Show this on billboards to our adults. Never let this be forgotten, and maybe, just maybe, we might start listening. Here’s hoping. 


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