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Film: Mangrove

  • Barbara Kentish

Mangrove, directed by Steve McQueen, will be premiered at the London Film Festival on October 7th this year.

This powerful docu-drama premieres in a year when Black Lives Matter has never been more topical. Exactly 50 years ago, Mangrove Restaurant owner Frank Crichlow was fighting for the survival of his West Indian business in Notting Hill. Raid after violent police raid was destroying his morale, till activist writer Darcus Howe persuaded him and others to 'take to the streets' to protest. Enter Black Panther activist student Altheia Jones Lecointe, to boost their call. A police confrontation, a lengthy Old Bailey trial of nine people for riot and affray was the result. Steve McQueen, whose family lived in West London at the time, is the perfect director to remind us of this trial, which influenced race relations with the police for many years to come.

The film is indeed a polemic for anti-racism, but we are much more involved with the personalities and their destinies than the wider politics. It focuses on two of the women and two of the men. An interest to declare here: my husband, now deceased, was one of the 'Mangrove Nine' (though I only met him later), and when we attended the preview some of the 'children of Mangrove' were affronted that their parents' names were not mentioned.

Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes) plays a sensitive businessman, determined to run a 'clean restaurant' and his alternations between fury and despair at his treatment were poignant. Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby) - the fiery ideologue, shone in the courtroom, providing laughs and incredulity at the conspiracies of police evidence. A real gem was Altheia,(Letitia Wright), the Black Panther, an articulate orator in the small crowd, 'Kill the Pigs, kill the Pigs!', who presciently exhorted her fellow defendants to think of their children, and to stand up for the right to demonstrate and the right to oppose racism. Sitting with those children 50 years on, I heard that lesson loud and clear.

Barbara Beese (Rochenda Sandall), Darcus Howe's partner and mother of his baby, passionately expressed the price they could pay for taking to the streets, perhaps lose their baby to the care system, from which she had come, though she still demonstrated with huge vigour and anger. I wondered, in the tense dialogue between the couple, how Steve McQueen had conducted his research. Certainly he must have used the Court transcript extensively.

Steve McQueen manages to convey, with huge skill in camera work, the gritty, dirty and mammoth construction of the London Westway, which destroyed so many houses in the area, the casually racist graffiti, and most powerful, the comforting tenderness of the Mangrove restaurant, providing the only UK 'home' that some West Indians might have known.

I was struck by the camera sequence of the long tedious wait for the verdict. A defendants' waiting room wreathed in smoke - did we really smoke so much then? And a faint wave-like sound, over and over again, like an eternity.

The verdict of the Mangrove trial, which included Judge Clark's admission of racism in the police force for the first time, continues to be relevant, and is a landmark legacy of the Windrush generation. The film is a great contribution by Steve McQueen to the Black Lives Matter cause. Many of the Nine have now passed on, RIP. The 'Children of Mangrove' are still having to pick up the baton.

Watch the official trailer here:


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