- Movie Rating -

Small Axe: Mangrove (2020)

| December 3, 2020

Twenty-four hours before seeing Mangrove, the first of five films in Steve McQueen’s ambitious anthology Small Axe, I declared to my friend and podcast co-host Doug Heller that Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 was one of the best films of the year.  One day later I was eating my words.  While I still think that Trial is a great film, standing next to Mangrove, it seems so much practically polished.

It also seems somewhat less urgent.  Mangrove is an angry film and justifiably so.  The Small Axe series deals with the trials and tribulations of West Indian immigrants living in London from the late 60s through the early 80s, and exposing the institutional racism that they have had to endure from the police, and from the institutions that govern their daily lives.  It’s not a pretty picture.

I have seen all of the films in the series and, to be honest, I think Mangrove may be the angriest.  Taking place in North London, the film tells the true story of a tiny family-own West Indian restaurant called “The Mangrove” which is a healthy community hang-out, but is also a target for racist white police officers, led by the hideous PC Pulley (Sam Spruell).  Pulley and his officers use their authoritative position to harass and bully the owners of the establishment on a daily basis, breaking window and whenever possible busting some heads.

Pulley and his gang see the Mangrove as an afront to their supremacy, and its owner Frank Critchlow, a Trinidadian entrepreneur who proudly displays a “Black Ownership” sign in the window as a target.  When things reach of a boiling point, Critchlow and eight of his friends take the fight to the streets and are arrested.  Thus, the rest of Mangrove becomes a very compelling court room drama.

The chief difference between Mangrove and The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the temper of the courtroom scenes.  Wherein Trial draws a clear villain in the judge played by Frank Langella, Mangrove leaves the villain on trial in the guise of PC Pulley.  You never really get the sense that the defendants are in a David and Goliath struggle because there is a measure of reality to the way in which the trial progresses.  You feel as if you are sitting ringside and the ebb and flow of the trial never feels written, though it is based on true events.

This is not to suggest that Trial of the Chicago 7 is stunted in any way.  It’s still a great film, but there is something less predictable about the proceedings in Mangrove.  It ends with a note of triumph only to have it stamped out by the cold reality that the fighting at the Mangrove didn’t end here.  It’s a sad reality, but a terrific film.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2020) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized