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film review

Mangrove tells the true story of Frank Crichlow (played by Shaun Parkes, left), whose West Indian restaurant, Mangrove, was a lively community hub in London’s Notting Hill.Des Willie/BBC/McQueen Limited

  • Mangrove
  • Directed by Steve McQueen
  • Written by Steve McQueen, Alastair Siddons
  • Starring Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright and Malachi Kirby
  • Classification R; 124 minutes

Rating:

3.5 out of 4 stars

With Mangrove, the first of five films that comprise acclaimed director Steve McQueen’s new and ambitious Small Axe anthology series for Amazon Prime Video and the BBC, the London filmmaker of Grenadian and Trinidadian heritage returns to his cultural roots.

In Mangrove, Crichlow finds himself and his drug-free business the brunt of relentless police raids, prompting him and his friends to take to the streets in peaceful protest in only to be met by police aggression.des willie/BBC/McQueen Limited

The long-gestating project depicts various histories of London’s West Indian communities as lived through the late 1960s to the mid-1980s. Mangrove follows the story of the Mangrove Nine, a group of West Indian community activists who were subject to myriad ways in which the London police surveilled, harassed and systematically targeted the Black community in 1970s' Notting Hill. McQueen tempers his established commitment to unwavering realism (for some, the anti-Black violence depicted here may feel relentless) with curative moments of 1970s' West Indian life and culture, which foster kinship, comfort and celebration.

As a result of the protest, nine men and women, including Frank, leader of the British Black Panther Movement Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), and activist Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), are wrongly arrested and charged with incitement to riot and affray.BBC/McQueen Limited

With its visual, sonic and cultural gestures, the film is nothing less than a love letter to West Indian life, and makes home in its political figures and artists, its iconography, its food, its music, its gestures and movements all shared here on screen.

It is no coincidence that McQueen’s first film that takes as its focus Black Britons of Caribbean descent is one that celebrates them with such dynamism.

Mangrove is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video starting Nov. 20 in the U.S.; it will be available in Canada at a date yet to be determined.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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