With Mangrove, there’s a sense that writer-director Steve McQueen is searching for a new way to tell stories about the injustices inflicted on Black people. Where his previous films, particularly Hunger and 12 Years a Slave, depicted suffering in a confrontational way via the use of long takes and extreme violence, Mangrove always returns to the mundane joys of a peacefully lived life, serving to remind us how often Black people are denied such humble pleasures.

It can be easy to oversimplify such obviously unjust events from the perspective of a period film, but McQueen and Alistair Siddons’ script is great at capturing the nuances and intersectionalities at play within this little corner of an institutionally racist British society. Class, gender and wealth all have their roles to play in suppressing dissent, but it is of course race that is the decisive factor.

Racism is given an almost surreal edge, with abrupt editing and a perspective close to the heart of the Mangrove restaurant making no excuses for the senselessness of the police’s raids. It’s a perfect dynamic representation of what it must feel like to be gaslit with the accusation that you’re breaking the law when in reality you’re simply trying to live.

There are formidable performances from Sean Parkes and Malachi Kirby, but Letitia Wright is the standout in one of her most substantial roles to date. When she shows such steely rage and quiet compassion, it’s difficult to believe she is still only 26.

Mangrove is shot through with the bitter knowledge that this is one battle in a long war, chiming with the Small Axe proverb from which McQueen’s BBC film series is titled. As Altheia (Wright) says, “This continues beyond us here”—and it’s hard to think of a more relevant message, as similar fights are being fought across the world today.



CAST: Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Gary Beadle, Jack Lowden, Alex Jennings

DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen

WRITERS: Steve McQueen, Alastair Siddons

SYNOPSIS: In 1968, the Notting Hill police force and their racist harassment of the Mangrove restaurant and its owner Frank (Shaun Parkes) lead to a groundbreaking court case in UK history.