Small AxeMangrove (UK 2020)

The protest march

‘Mangrove’ refers to the restaurant opened by the Trinidadian Frank Crichlow in North Kensington in 1968. Crichlow had previously run El Rio, a café around the corner. The café had attracted attention by the police because of allegations of drugs being used there. Crichlow was determined that The Mangrove would become a respectable restaurant serving West Indian food. It soon became popular, not only with the local West Indian community, but also celebrities (musicians including Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix), artists/writers and activists. Despite this (or perhaps because of this?) the police raided the restaurant more than once between 1969 and 1970. Fed up and frustrated by these raids (which generally found nothing) Frank Crichlow and others from the community were joined by Darcus Howe, his partner Barbara Beese and Altheia Jones, an activist from the British Black Panther group, in organising a protest march which aimed to pass the three police stations in the area. The march gathered support but was in effect ambushed by the police who arrested nine marchers including the four leaders. The ‘Mangrove Nine’ were charged with ‘riot and affray’. As this was a serious charge the case was heard at the Central Criminal Court (i.e. ‘The Old Bailey’ in 1971). The case lasted a punishing 11 weeks with prison sentences hanging over the accused. These are the facts of the case. I haven’t given the outcome of the case but you can look it up.

The four leaders of the march in the front row of the dock

Steve McQueen has created a film narrative which runs from 1968 to 1971 and includes most of the important elements of the historical record. His script was co-written with Alastair Siddons. I want to make a couple of points about McQueen’s formal approach first. Mangrove is longer than the other films comprising Small Axe and it is presented in a ‘Scope ratio. It presumably has a bigger budget too and includes CGI to portray the area in the 1969 with Westway, the elevated inner city motorway extension, which was being built at the time. There is also a sense of expansiveness and expressionism in the cinematography by Shabier Kirchner, especially in the Old Bailey trial scenes. Also,  it’s one of only two out of the five films to feature an international Hollywood star with Letitia Wright, the Guyanese-British actor seen in films like Black Panther (US 2018) cast in Mangrove as the political activist Altheia Jones.  It’s no surprise that Mangrove has been presented as ‘Episode 1’ of Small Axe.

Letitia Wright as Altheia Jones meeting local South Asian workers as part of her strategy to unionise Black workers

Formally, the film’s narrative structure seems to fall into three sections. The first sets up the opening of the restaurant and the excitement of a community finding it has somewhere to meet and to enjoy its own culture. The second part focuses on the clashes with the police during the raids and on the march. The final section is the long trial sequence. The trial draws on some familiar courtroom drama generic conventions whereas the first section has elements of melodrama in the relationships focused on the restaurant – which also carries through into the ‘home life’ of Darcus Howe and Barbara Beese (but oddly not so much into the relationship between Frank Crichlow and his partner Selma James).

Shaun Parkes as Frank Crichlow

Overall, Mangrove is a conventional presentation of a series of events with at times a documentary feel in terms of details. I did find some of the CGI slightly unreal and the half-built Westway looks almost as if it is a part of a science fiction narrative in the opening sequence as Frank walks home through North Kensington. The trial section is very well handled and works much like classical Hollywood. In a way though, I was more interested in the first part of the film that explores relationships within the local community. The details here are revealing. The Mangrove became an informal hub for the organisers of the Notting Hill Carnival  and the music culture of Trinidad and the South Eastern Caribbean are included on the soundtrack. Mighty Sparrow appears along with the smooth 1960s country star Jim Reeves, a favourite in the region. I think the inclusion of so much Jamaican music in the form of ska/rock steady and reggae from the late 1960s/early 1970s, especially Toots and the Maytals is there to represent the more familiar music for the wider audience.

Barbara Beese (Rochenda Sandell) is arrested during the march after being attacked by a white bystander

Shaun Parkes as Frank Crichlow is very good and it does seem that in the 1960s and into the 70s Trinidadians rather than Jamaicans comprised the the main group of writers and activists in the West Indian community. Frank doesn’t want to be political but he is clearly an important local figure. It’s also good to see the older members of the community using the restaurant as a social space. It must be difficult for some viewers to accept the attitudes of the police as depicted in the film but this was definitely how it was. Police culture and behaviour is a strong element in three of the Small Axe films and in the 1970s and 1980s, the Metropolitan Police had a dreadful reputation for corruption and a canteen culture of racism and sexism. Inevitably McQueen is forced into generic modes of characterisation. There has to be a younger constable who is not inherently racist but is pushed towards action by the group and threatened with being ostracised if he doesn’t conform. I did find the police in action to be sometimes quite comical in a Keystone Cops kind of way. This is before the helmets and truncheons were replaced by hard hats and riot shields and batons. There is nothing comical about their violence, however. I was stunned to learn that the police officer who led the raids was ‘PC Pulley’, a real person. I’m still baffled as to how he was in a position of enough authority to indulge his own racist mission. A surprise for modern audiences is just how many uniformed officers a local police station could turn out for a small protest march. I don’t know the actual numbers in 1970 but in the later 1970s, all demonstrations and also the Notting Hill Carnival were all heavily policed.

Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby) reading C L R James, the great Trinidadian historian, socialist and journalist – and cricket writer.

The melodrama elements are important in the middle section of the film and I was impressed by the representation of the Darcus Howe-Barbara Beese relationship. Both actors are again very good and Malachi Kirby as Howe for me caught both the voice and authority of the young activist from Trinidad. The scene represented above is when Howe suggests that the C L R James book Black Jacobins should be taught in schools in the UK. Breese replies that perhaps not in the primary schools where she works. The point here is that these are activists with real relationships rooted in the ‘lived experience’ of their communities. Here Barbara reminds Darcus that they have to be practical and think about their small son as well as their political work. I think I would be interested to see this whole melodrama of relationships and family background explored in more detail in something like a a long-form narrative of its own, but I guess that McQueen does this by offering four other stories each with a different focus.

I should add Letitia Wright’s excellent performance as Altheia Jones to round out my appreciation of the leading players. In fact, the whole cast is impressive and the production overall is a great achievement. Mangrove provides a platform for the other four films and I’ll attempt to relate each of them to the overall project as we go along. One last thought, the years 1968-1971 were tumultuous in London, especially for any kind of political activism. While these events in Notting Hill were important struggles they sat alongside protests over the war in Vietnam, the resistance to apartheid and the boycott of South African rugby and cricket tours. The civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland was about to become an issue in London (there is a moment when anti-Irish prejudice is exposed in the local Notting Hill police during the surveillance of the Mangrove). Eventually, the struggles of the West Indian community would become a larger story and activism would spread across the capital, something which McQueen picks up in the other four films.

14 comments

  1. keith1942

    Well judged comments: I am glad that Roy mentions some of the wider context in this period. I thought the early sequences of the title were the most interesting. I felt that the drama falling into sections with a slightly separate feel was common across the ‘Small Axe’ series. As far as the relationships go I wonder if the focus has been determined by the sources that McQueen relied on for scripting. There is a slight imbalance in the treatment. And the drama does become more conventional as it develops.
    Two minor issues interested me. Apart from references in the Black Audio Collective titles this seems to be the first time we have had a representation of the British Black Panthers on screen. And I think this is the first time I remember seeing the Old Bailey in colour on screen; the films that I remember were in black and white. I was struck by the almost baroque decoration in the entrance.
    This is certainly both an effective and important treatment of British history.

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  2. Keith Venables

    I am delighted that this important piece of history is now on mainstream (BBC) TV. Maybe get it on Netflix, too. It begins to fill in gaps for all of us, as do the following 4 films.

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  3. John

    If I may, can I take issue with the (common) claim that this film is an “important piece of history”, an “important treatment of British history”? To take one example, re PC Pulley and being “baffled as to how he was in a position of enough authority to indulge his own racist mission”. I see this as an excellent example of the narrative structure having to obscure a very significant part of British history. We see Pulley as the bad cop instigating acts of police racism in the opening sequence: “I’ve seen enough” and he drive to the Mangrove and a raid. Time and again we see Pulley instigating police action – he seems to be in authority. This fits well with the narrative in that it provides a straightforward good/bad dichotomy which easily enables motivation for the actors/us, and which is powerful enough to overcome the obvious contradiction: why is Pulley in a position of power yet never been promoted? The answer is easy to find these days on the internet. As is backed-up by the Institute of Race Relations, work by the authors of Darcus Howe’s political biography in 2014 has established that in 1967 a ‘Black Power Desk’ was establish in New Scotland Yard by Special Branch and MI5. The unit was staffed by up to six officers and was intimately involved in surveillance and undercover activities in Ladbroke Grove in the period the film covers. Clearly, the Desk was orchestrating the racism not Pulley. There are numerous examples of where narrative wins over significant history in Mangrove but this ‘comments’ section probably isn’t the best place for that.

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    • Roy Stafford

      Thanks for the reference to the political biography of Darcus Howe which I wasn’t aware of. I assume that such desks have always been part of security operations. The desk might explain the seeming authority of PC Pulley in this case, although elements of his behavior still seem odd. Checking back through the earlier scenes in the film, I note that the Desk Sergeant at Pulley’s station seems complicit in the treatment of Black men arrested on the street for no reason, but the later actions by Pulley do seem to need more authority.

      I’m not sure why you think this comments section isn’t the place to discuss where the film narrative ‘wins over significant history in Mangrove‘. Both ‘narrative’ and ‘history’ are interesting concepts in themselves. They are both authored in some way and both more or less ‘truthful’. I’m trying to read these five films as narratives constructed by Steve McQueen for broadcast on mainstream TV and on limited release in cinemas. McQueen himself has promoted the films as telling stories about the West Indian community in London during the period period from 1968 through to 1984. The stories are based on what he has been told by friends and relatives and the research carried out by himself and his two co-writers. It seems likely that he was aware of the surveillance of UK Black Power groups conducted by UK security services but he presented the police action in the way he did for reasons that are not immediately clear. I’ve noted that there are similar decisions about inclusion/exclusion of aspects of policing in London in the other films, particularly in Red, White and Blue.

      Perhaps you could explain your point in a little more detail? Do you think Mangrove would make a more compelling narrative if the ‘Black Power Desk’ was directly represented? Perhaps it would. Filmmakers use narrative devices and generic conventions to make narratives easier to read for mainstream audiences. Mangrove is a narrative focused on the defendants in the trial. Red, White and Blue is intended to be a narrative about policing in London and Alex Wheatle is in some ways a development of what that policing meant for young Black men on the street. I haven’t yet reached a conclusion about what I make of all five films as an anthology.

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  4. John

    Thanks for replying. My concern about the comments section is that we are dealing with complex issues which demand thought-through input, which isn’t the usual tone for blog comments (unfortunately). However, as you are up for discussion then that’s all good …

    I absolutely take your point that the films are “narratives constructed by Steve McQueen for broadcast on mainstream TV” and that “Mangrove is a narrative focused on the defendants in the trial”. With Mangrove, Siddons points out in numerous interviews that they started with the trial and the lead-up was about providing motivation for the defendants. For this purpose, it helps that the Mangrove is presented as being rooted in the local Black community, a community hub and that Crichlow is a father-of-the-community figure who reluctantly agrees to protest action. The phone conversation with his local MP (around 42 mins in) being the last straw for Frank, which allows the narrative action to shift from police harassment to protest and the demonstration.

    As a mainstream commercial product this all makes sense. Within the confines of a standard narrative structure, complexities such as a spycops-style operation, Frank’s actual relationship with his MP, the Mangrove as a hub for London’s counterculture or the many layers of racism – individual, structural, institutional and establishment – hardly fit with the stated purpose of the films as a celebration of Black culture. As such, my concern isn’t with the films themselves. Rather, I consider the reception of the Mangrove as an “important piece of history” (which seems widespread) as problematic. Broadly and this is of course another area of study, I fear that, as part of our post-truth culture we are more willing to accept lower standards of truth and less willing to consider facts which disrupt taken opinions.

    To take one example of the wide disparity between fact and fiction in the Mangrove, the MP who Frank slams the phone down on was newly elected Bruce Douglas-Mann. As is made clear in the Howe biography and other studies, instead of being a representative of the white establishment and thus an enemy, Douglas-Mann had previously supported the Black community in the Grove as their local Councillor, was a patron of the Mangrove who knew Frank personally, supported the Mangrove Nine by repeatedly writing to the Home Secretary demanding an inquiry and appeared at the trial as a prominent character witness for Frank.

    This seems a significant disparity but does it matter? For the film as a mainstream commercial product, probably not. For our reception of the film is the disparity problematic? I’d be pleased to hear your thoughts on that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roy Stafford

      Mangrove is in many ways a ‘rich text’ which includes a number of references such as CLR James and his book The Black Jacobins – which makes another appearance in the fourth film Alex Wheatle. I went back to look at the scene in which Frank receives the phone call and I noted that there is an image pinned to the wall behind Darcus Howe, which I eventually managed to work out is a print of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, first leader of the independent Haitian Republic in 1805. I missed that when I first watched the film, so thanks for directing me towards it. Re the phone call. the composition of the main part of the sequence is such that Frank answers the phone on the extreme left of the frame and Darcus is still sat at the same table on the right edge of the frame. The context is that Darcus has been arguing that the situation has changed in Trinidad and initially the image of Dessalines remained onscreen behind Darcus. I read this to mean that Frank should start relying on what the local Black community is telling him rather than looking towards ‘the white establishment’. I take the latter to be a reference to the police, Home Office, Embassy and local MP, ie all associated with the former colonial power in the West Indies and the host community in the UK. Frank does not mention the MP’s name. I’m not sure if it matters whether it is meant to be Bruce Douglas-Mann. Like most of the audience, I had to check dates here and I didn’t know about his background as a councillor in North Kensington. He would have been the local MP for just a few weeks at this point. He was a lawyer by trade so for him to ask about proof is perfectly reasonable. It’s also understandable for a very angry Frank to slam the phone down. I don’t think this is a slur on Douglas-Mann. From the perspective of Darcus Howe and the other activists, all white MPs (I don’t think there were any Black MPs at the time?) were part of the white establishment. That wouldn’t change even when he demonstrated support for the local Black community. I think you could argue that it is not the phone call that convinces Frank but instead Darcus Howe’s argument. However, we know from the trial that Frank still saw himself outside the main activist centre and he still had an unsympathetic white barrister.

      I note your reference to a ‘celebration of Black culture’. Is this taken from something McQueen said? I don’t think I’ve used that phrase. I’ve tried to emphasise that these are stories McQueen believes were not told at the time and should be told now so that Black Britons under 70 (i.e. most of the Black population) learn something about how London was 50 years ago. As I put in my first post, introducing the films, I think he ignores the work of Black filmmakers in the 1980s especially, though at that time such work was not widely seen, it’s true. In a way, I think that the three lower profile films, Lovers Rock, Alex Wheatle and Education are more interesting films about Black lives in the period, but that’s just my preference.

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      • John

        (Roy, hope you don’t me replying again at length – I’m finding this a productive conversation)

        Re the ‘celebration of Black culture’ quote, this is paraphrased from the BBC press release for Small Axe: McQeen says that Small Axe is “a celebration of all that that community has succeeded in achieving against the odds”. Or, as the BBC have it: “Small Axe is a celebration of Black joy, beauty, love, friendship, family, music and even food”. I take the use of the word ‘celebration’ as non-trivial.

        I’m coming at this from a political education perspective and so am interested in how the films are received and in particular in the common reaction to Mangrove as an “important piece of history” (see comments above). Considered alongside the filmmakers’ ‘celebration’ intention, I find the ‘history’ claims potentially problematic. From a political education perspective, my findings with Mangrove support a wider concern that mainstream commercial products are almost always going to need extra work in order for them to become useful for understanding history, or more particularly political history. Mangrove is a great example here.

        From a film studies perspective I take and understand your comments Roy about Bruce Douglas-Mann. It is of course unreasonable to expect an audience to have close knowledge of the culture and politics of that time. Douglas-Mann could understandably be taken as a white member of the establishment and it’s then understandable that Frank was very angry. As McQueen says, the film shows how the Black community has “succeeded … against all the odds”: as you note, Douglas-Mann was one of the ‘odds’ that the community was up against.

        So, let’s take this wider now and to the reception of the film and what one learns and can take away and make use of as part of cumulative knowledge of, in this case, Black struggles. If we largely take the film ‘as is’, that it’s an important piece of history, that would most likely involve taking the ‘against all the odds’ message as central to the struggle, to what happened. Although this is obviously an attractive and easily consumed narrative it is highly problematic when considered within the era and place in which Mangrove is set. As such, the film can be thought to be misleading and unhelpful in that it perpetuates a stereotype of Black struggle, that it was always black vs white.

        The period from ’68 to ’72 is considered the high point of the British counterculture movement, with Ladbroke Grove the epicentre. As the authors of the Howe biography note, Frank’s restaurant was a “hub for London’s counterculture” (p93). The period is little studied these days but two aspects are easily discernable. Firstly, that period is characterised by shared struggle where white and black intellectuals and activists freely met, exchanged ideas and collaborated together. Secondly, given the new availability of printing technology, an underground press is very active. Given space here, just one example is Black Power activist Courtney Tulloch editing International Times and writing for Oz (see Guardian obituary).

        Tulloch also published a magazine called Hustler! from upstairs at the Mangrove and Douglas-Mann provided content on residents’ housing rights. The content used data from Douglas-Mann’s involvement in a Notting Hill Summer Project in ’67 involving a black housing survey. For Frank, it’s good that Douglas-Mann is a lawyer: Frank actively worked with lawyers including setting up Defence (legal advice for Black youths) alongside Michael X and Oz’s Colin MacInnes in ’66. The point here is that Douglas-Mann could be and was part of the movement and him providing a character witness statement for Frank at the trial was just one aspect of him not being part of the establishment. Unsurprisingly, Douglas-Mann was investigated by the Special Branch / MI5 Black Power Desk because he posed a threat to the establishment.

        It surely isn’t helpful for addressing racism if the simplistic Mangrove message of Black vs white is taken at face value. As such, Mangrove can be seen a wasted opportunity to revise an unhelpful stereotype which must surely work against the overall purpose of tackling racism. I note Prof Paul Gilroy was an ‘advisor’ on Mangrove. It’s rumoured that Small Axe is to become part of the GCSE curriculum – from a political education perspective this is highly problematic if that doesn’t involve examining history in many areas, including the New Cross omission in Red white and Blue.

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      • Roy Stafford

        I think the first thing to point out is that I am just as concerned about ‘political education’ as I am am about film and media education more widely. Promoting ideas about how films and other media texts can be read is the basis of this blog. It isn’t, as many people believe, as simple as saying this film accurately presents the historical facts or that film is is not worth watching because it invents things or anything in between. Films, like all forms of storytelling, are complex forms that depend on who is reading them and in what context as much as who is making them in a different context. I am intrigued and a little disturbed at the idea that McQueen’s work would be suddenly added to the school curriculum, much as I am by commentators who have been calling Media Studies a ‘Mickey Mouse’ subject for years and now want to ‘introduce’ media literacy. I see from my Twitter feed today that McQueen is to ‘executive produce’ two documentaries by Black filmmakers which will look at the Black Power movement in the UK and at ESN schools. (Guardian story) As documentaries these will be discussed differently to the Small Axe films that have in a sense inspired them – at least, I hope they will.

        Thanks for the name ‘Courtney Tulloch’. I have now read the piece in the International Times Archive about the ‘Mangrove Bust’ in 1970 and it does offer a great deal of background material.

        I could respond to some of your other points but I feel we are in argument that we need to step back from and the developments such as McQueen’s BBC commissions etc. make me think that there is a bigger project to think about. I will email you privately.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. keith1942

    John’s comments are very interesting and I was unaware of some of the information he provides; though the activities in the police does not surprise me.
    I sympathise with his strictures regarding ‘history’; however, ‘history’ like other concepts is a terrain of conflict. I think the points made as to how the five dramas fit into the conventions of mainstream drama explain a lot. Roy and John discuss this to an extent with reference to less conventional programmes. But, as far as I have read, this is not something that has received much attention. Certainly in ‘Sight & Sound’ there was very limited discussion of other dramas addressing both the events and the themes of ‘Mangrove’ and ‘Small Axe’ in general.
    And my sense is that currently there is less attention to alternative media that in earlier decades. These are isues of content but also of how content is presented.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Steve Bennison

    I’m in a reading group with John where we’ve been researching & discussing the film & its context etc, so I’m a bit biased, but this seems a very interesting & worthwhile discussion. I’m happy to agree with all the arguments here -where they differ it seems more a difference of emphasis than a major disagreement. I don’t have much to add, but here’s a few references etc for any fellow obsessives. Although Steve McQueen is no doubt correct to say that the Mangrove story isn’t widely known, it is actually quite well documented online – I found nearly 300 sources, mostly just short potted histories, but also archived material from the time, interviews, memoirs, bits in books & several PhD dissertations. The most detailed accounts are in the book mentioned above, “Darcus Howe: A Political Biography” (reissued in paperback as “Renegade”) by Robin Bunce & Paul Field, & also, more recently, “Thinking Black” by Rob Waters. Should also mention the 40 min 1973 documentary film “Mangrove Nine” directed by Franco Rossi (best known for “Babylon”) with help from Horace Ove (best known for “Pressure” -which also includes a brief glimpse of The Mangrove.) There’s a 10-minute clip on YouTube but I got a DVD by post from the George Padmore institute in London. Also, finally, the 6-part 2017 Sky TV series “Guerrilla” is all about 1970s London Black Panthers. It’s obviously fictionalised & glamorised etc, but was written & directed by John Ridley who, amongst other things, wrote “12 Years a Slave” & did have an impressive set of advisors & consultants, including Darcus Howe. Needless to say, I got the DVD box set on Amazon, & must admit it’s pretty enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roy Stafford

      This is an impressive array of research results Steve, much of which I wasn’t aware of. I’m sure you noted in the news last week that Steve McQueen is going to ‘executive produce’ a documentary on the British Black Power movement so you’ll be in a good position to write about that. I’m not sure exactly what the history tells us about Mangrove, however, i.e. about McQueen’s film. I agree with you that McQueen’s statement about the story not being well known is a little odd and much like his comments about the other parts of the Small Axe anthology when he suggests that there weren’t films made about these stories during the 1970s/80s. He’s right of course that nothing has had the promotion and high profile that his own work has achieved. I am currently thinking about John’s comments about the film as presenting a misleading historical account. Your group chose to focus on Mangrove out of the five films in the anthology and I’m trying to think more about how that film relates to the other four. At the moment I’m assuming that the main character in Mangrove is Frank Critchlow and what happens to him as a result of opening the restaurant and appearing at the trial. What I don’t know much about is how the whole political background you have been studying had an influence on Frank specifically. Does anything about that emerge from your research?

      There are a number of issues that arise from McQueen’s anthology. One of the ones that intrigues me is the extent to which radicalism in the West Indies in the 1960s and 1970s seems to be mainly focused on Trinidad but, at least from a UK perspective, this seems to diminish over time and be replaced by rather different Jamaican issues. McQueen’s anthology seems to reflect this in various ways but I’m struggling from a lack of knowledge about the history of the Caribbean more generally.

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      • John

        Roy, I understand Steve is offline for a couple of days. Here’s an attempt to reply to your question concerning “how the whole political background … had an influence on Frank specifically” (BTW it’s Crichlow – no ‘t’).

        I find this a problematic question given Frank’s complex relationship with cultural politics and the London counterculture over at least a decade before the trial. Sure, if he was the innocent, hard working, pillar-of-the-community man depicted in the film and he became radicalised by PC Pulley’s racism then there is a clear influence. However, this isn’t the Frank we read about from studies of the period. And the clues are everywhere from a cursory look at the period. For example, search the British Newspaper Archive for ‘Crichlow’ in the Kensington Post in 1969 and there’s Frank on 9th May. That is, savvy, up-market restaurant owner ‘FRANK GILBERT CRICHLOW’, not the chap in the film we assume lives at the Mangrove – this one lives at up-market ‘1 Leith Mansions, Grantully Road, Maida Vale, W. 9’. Even accounting for later gentrification, that would have been some address at the time (the houses overlook Paddington Park) and is indicative of the Frank at the time . Politically, the Mangrove film Frank / Mangrove restaurant Frank disparity is quite something. Just one example, the point made above about Frank’s involvement in setting up ‘Defence’ in 1966 (see Howe bio p95) should at least cause concern regarding the depiction of Frank in the film.

        My view is that we’re asking the wrong questions here. Attempting to ascertain the accuracy of the film could be relevant given the claims to historical accuracy by the filmmakers and given the reception of the film as a ‘piece of history’. But is is relevant in 2020?

        As a 2020 film I would argue for understanding the film in relation to our 2020s cultural context and in particular the notion of neoliberalism. As per ‘New Review of Film and Television Studies Volume 17, 2019 – Issue 3: Cinema and the Cultures of Neoliberalism’ and the intro essay ‘Neoliberal theory and film studies’, I agree that “the field of film studies is overdue for an exploration of political and biopolitical theories of neoliberalism and their connections to film texts”. My focus here would be on ‘neoliberal consciousness’ and changing conceptions of ‘history’. I suspect there’s a case for arguing that the New Cross omission in RWB or the misrepresentation of Frank, the Mangrove and racism in Mangrove are less now relevant. Rather, within their milieu, an intended reaction and a marker of success is eliciting visceral emotion. The mistake which can be made is reading the film, from what is probably an increasingly anachronistic perspective, as ‘history’. For our post-truth consciousness, the film text’s relation to events in the period depicted is allowed to be (expected to be?) far more tenuous.

        As such, the claim that Mangrove is “an important piece of history” is misplaced on two counts. Firstly, the film bears a highly tenuous relationship with many events at the time – examining the selection of ‘accurate’ events would, though, be an interesting exercise. Secondly, for our neoliberal consciousness, we care less about the relationship between cultural artefacts and actual events. The ‘piece of history’ claim thus becomes misplaced and anachronistic.

        In short, for sure the film provides a misleading historical account. But should we case? Clearly, there’s much work to be done on ‘neoliberalism and film study’.

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