Small Axe : Mangrove

Small Axe S01E01 is part of the Small Axe anthology film series directed by the award-winning director Steve McQueen. The anthology consists of five films which tell distinct stories about the lives of West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s and 1970s. Entitled “Mangrove”, Small Axe S01E01 tells the story of the Mangrove Nine, a group of West Indian immigrants who were charged with riot and affray in the early 70s.

Small Axe S01E01 “Mangrove” stars Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Alex Jennings and Jack Lowden. The film is set in 1970s-era Notting Hill (a West London district), where the local police routinely oppress the immigrant community purely on racial grounds. The case of the Mangrove Nine was a landmark in British race relations as it was the first official acknowledgment that British law enforcement authorities were racially prejudiced against non-White immigrants.

Director McQueen, of course, is best known for his Oscar winning picture 12 years a Slave, a film depicting the horrors of slavery in the American south during the 19th century. Small Axe S01E01 “Mangrove” is closer to home for McQueen as this film – and the other films in the Small Axe anthology – addresses in British pop culture the often subtle racism that has existed in the UK for the longest time.

Small Axe S01E01 “Mangrove” is a uniquely British film in that the events that unfold do so in a matter of fact style. There is very little of the sensationalism and overt drama that is seen in American films. One relevant comparison would be Aaron Sorkin’s recent The Trial of the Chicago 7, which took place around the same time as the Mangrove Nine trial.

Critics of The Trial of the Chicago 7 have pointed to the historical inaccuracies evident in the film and an undue emphasis on the more dramatic moments for entertainment purposes. No such comments could be validly made about Small Axe S01E01 “Mangrove” – the characterisations of the protagonists are presented warts and all. There is blame to be attached on both sides, apportioned based on the facts. A very refreshing perspective.

Looking forward to the rest of the Small Axe anthology series. Highly recommended.

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