The first chapter of Steve McQueen’s mini-series is nothing short of spectacular.
Director Steve McQueen, best known for making “Shame,” “12 Years a Slave,” and the wildly under-appreciated “Widows” has made a mini-series, called “Small Axe,” which consists of 5 films that take place at London’s West Indian community from 1969-1982. Their titles are “Mangrove,” “Lovers Rock,” “Red, White, and Blue,” “Alex Wheatle,” and “Education,” and they’ll all be released weekly on Amazon Prime.
The first entry, “Mangrove,” tells the true story of The Mangrove Nine and their fight against the police. It’s an electrifying experience that shows us the cruelty of police brutality and how justice gets served. McQueen provides a somewhat Spike Lee feel to the movie and the characters who use their words wisely and outspoken.
Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes from “The Mummy Returns”) is the owner of the Mangrove restaurant, where African people talk about their political views, especially how police brutality has reached a new low. His establishment is constantly raided by the pigs, who also take away his alcohol license. He closes down the restaurant, and makes it a 24-hour hangout. And he and the black community must march the London streets in the fight against the police.
Among the supporting actors, Letitia Wright (“Black Panther”) plays a college student named Altheia Jones, who joins the Black Panther Party and the fight against the police. Jack Lowden plays a white lawyer named Ian McDonald, who must defend the fighters. Malachi Kirby and Rochenda Sandall as a young couple with a baby, and among the defendants. And Sam Spruell (“Legend”) plays PC Pulley, one of the bad cops.
The trial is unfair as protestors are denied access, even though they have tickets, and the judge (Alex Jennings) refuses to let them have an all black jury. And during the 11 weeks of the trial, fights break out and choices are made.
“Mangrove” is a riveting way to begin the “Small Axe” series, because of how McQueen shows us what went down in London the way Aaron Sorkin showed us what happened in Chicago in “The Trail of the Chicago 7.” Both these well-made masterpieces are daring and boldly made; and they’re about people who want to stop all the battles.
The performances from the cast-particularly Parkes, Wright, Kirby, and Sandall-are undeniably excellent, and their characters shake things up when you least expect them to. They have discussions, battles, fights, and arguments, and all these moments are sincere and pure. In fact, I was rooting for the Mangrove Nine to win the fight. They never deserved the abuse from the police, and if that was the case, then they had every right to fight back.
At a time when police brutality keeps on going, “Mangrove” is one of the most timely pieces of entertainment you need to see. It may be part of a movie series, but it has all the profound makings to stand on its own.
Now, I have the other 4 “Small Axe” episodes to see within the next few weeks or so.
Streaming on Amazon Prime