Mangrove charts the rising tide of anger against racism in 1960s Britain. Reviews by Alistair Harkness

Monday, 12th October 2020, 1:45 pm

Letitia Wright in Mangrove PIC: C. McQueen Limited / Photographer: Des Willie
Letitia Wright in Mangrove PIC: C. McQueen Limited / Photographer: Des Willie

Adapting to a radically altered cinematic landscape at a somewhat perilous time for the industry as a whole, this year’s BFI London Film Festival may have been forced to reduce its programme and go mostly online, but there’s no shortage of great cinema on offer.

Setting a politically charged tone, Steve McQueen’s opening night film Mangrove (****) saw the 12 Years a Slave director zero in on institutional racism in late 1960s Britain with a dramatisation of the swelling protests taking place against the Metropolitan police force in London’s Notting Hill. Taking its title from the black-owned cafe that became an unofficial sanctuary for locals sick of being harassed by the police, the film shows how its proprietor, Frank Chrichlow (Shaun Parkes — excellent), is reluctantly drawn into the role of political figurehead when a peaceful march that turns violent results in him being put on trial in 1970 with eight others for incitement to riot.

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Artfully recreating the era and incisively laying out the themes, McQueen never lets us forget the contemporary parallels, something that’s aided by impassioned performances from Letitia Wright as trade unionist Atheia Jones-LeCointe, Malachi Kirby as activist Darcus Howe, Rochenda Sandall as British Black Panther organiser Barbara Beese and Jack Lowden as maverick Scottish barrister Ian MacDonald.

One Night in Miami

Racial politics were also at the heart of One Night in Miami (****) , actor Regina King’s superbly entertaining directorial debut about an extraordinary meeting of minds on the night Cassius Clay (soon to be Muhammad Ali) beat Sonny Liston to become the boxing heavyweight champion of the world. The minds in question belong to Clay (Eli Goree), Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), who really did all meet up in February of 1964, a fact King and screenwriter Kemp Powers — adapting his own 2013 play of the same name — use as a jumping off-point for a kind of cultural and political summit that imagines these four titans of Black American life shooting the breeze while also debating their respective beliefs and conflicting ideas on empowerment. King takes care to avoid the theatrical pitfalls inherent in the material, broadening the play out with real cinematic flair.

Spotlighting the cruel way dementia forces a couple to mourn the encroaching loss of the life they’ve shared, British drama Supernova (****) was yet another highlight of the festival’s first days. Starring Colin Firth as a concert pianist only just holding it together as he embarks on a road trip with his ailing partner (Stanley Tucci), the film — written and directed with real elegance by Harry Macqueen — packs a big emotional punch thanks to Firth’s and Tucci’s sublime, intimate and heartfelt performances.

BFI London Film Festival 2020 runs online and in select cinemas, including Glasgow Film Theatre, until 18 October. See www.bfi.org.uk/london-film-festival