Film review Mangrove by Steve McQueen

Stills for Steve McQueen's Mangrove

Stills for Steve McQueen's Mangrove - Credit: Archant

It’s not quite cinema but McQueen’s evocation of Police harassment and racial injustice in 1960s Notting Hill is compelling

Stills for Steve McQueen's Mangrove

Stills for Steve McQueen's Mangrove - Credit: Archant

It is now the custom for the London Film Festival opener to be a British film arriving home after touting its wares around more prestigious festivals such as Toronto or Venice.

This year’s, the latest from the 12 Years A Slave director, had its world premiere at the New York Film Festival and isn’t even a film, but the first episode of a TV programme.

It airs on the Beeb this Sunday as the first of a five-part compendium series Small Axe, all directed by McQueen, exploring stories of UK racial injustice from the 60s and 70s. You can’t fault the man’s timing: moving to the small screen just as cinemas are closing.

(I suppose an apology is due here to Mr J. Bond, who I branded a “wimp” for cancelling a November release date that would’ve been the first day of lockdown.)

Mangrove takes us back to the pre-Richard Curtis/pre Everyman Cinema/ pre-Westway Notting Hill of the late sixties, just down the road from Withnail and I’s flat and round the corner from Mick Jagger’s Powis Square mansion in Performance, an area both vibrant and scuzzy.

Here Frank Crichlow (Parkes) is trying to make his way in the world opening a restaurant called the Mangrove to serve his mother’s soul food.

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Embittered constable (Spruell) won’t let this happen and keeps raiding the place on spurious pretexts. During a protest march, Frank is one of nine protesters fitted up by the Bill. Put on trial at the Old Bailey for riot and affray, he’s facing nine years in prison.

Even with somebody as gifted as McQueen in charge, a courtroom drama based on a true story is hard to get too excited about. Mangrove doesn’t have the thrilling formal invention of his previous films, but McQueen still manages to get more out of these scenes than most other directors would.

Parkes is truly compelling in the lead role. So much so that at a crucial point McQueen keeps the camera on his face after the focus of the scene has moved on to other characters and it is electric. It it isn’t quite cinema, but Mangrove may be the best-directed Play For Today ever.

4/5 stars

Starring Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Jack Lowden, Sam Spruell and Alex Jennings. On BBC1 Nov 15th. Running time 124 mins.

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