Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes) runs a resturuant catering towards black people in Notting Hill in the 1960s. Chriclow and his community are regularly terrorised by an openly racist police force. After a particularly aggressive raid following a peaceful demonstration, Chriclow and his friends find themselves fighting for their freedom in the courts. Contesting with an indifferent or openly hostile legal system, Crichlow considers how best to remain free.
In setting his scene, Steve Mcqueen renders a gorgeously vibrant impression of Notting Hill in the 1960s and the black communities that made their homes there. Music, dancing and pageantry are portrayed as a natural part of life and there’s no contrivance to it’s simple portrayal of rich lives, viciously disrupted. Once the violence arrives at the Mangrove, it is sudden, sickening and visceral. As the narrative turns to court room drama we are in the familiar territory of argument and counter-argument, but McQueen never loses track of the emotions at the heard of the case. McQueen is uniquely capable of communicating the immense scale of historical events through the medium of faces.
The nature of the hatred portrayed is irrational and completely institutionalised. The men who perpetrate these actions are defended by a system that refuses to question the authority of the police. A prosecutor at one stage asks why a police officer would take the risk of fabricating evidence, whilst arguing against
Another interesting aspect of the film is in it’s portrayal of the impact these events have on the people caught up in them. People who spend their lives under the threat of a police boot are expected to calmly and unemotionally express their displeasure whilst the beatings continue even during the court proceedings. The impact on the psychology of the men is plain to see as anger takes root in their hearts. It’s heart-breaking to consider the contemporary relevance of this story, some sixty years after the events of the film. Yet there is hope within the film, that basic decency may yet prevail.
The performances are extraordinary throughout the film. In particular Shaun Parkes as the, somewhat, main character. His frustration, fear and hope are fantastic. His reluctance to become the leader of this community and to make his peaceful business the heart of a revolutionary movement. Letitia Wright is also fantastic as activist Altheia Jones-Lecointe. The entire cast is fantastic at representing sides in a conflict for the soul of London.
Mangrove is an unfortunately relevant historical drama that perfectly captures the current climate of distrust in the police. It’s a movie about indifference enabling prejudice and the sheer will it takes to simply endure the injustice perpetrated against black communities. It’s a compelling court room drama and a moving character piece.