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Yardie – Idris Elba’s solid if patchy directorial debut
September 10, 2018
Idris Elba’s solid directorial debut shows he should probably direct as well as star in the next Bond. Yardie is based on a cult 90s book of the same name by Victor Headley, we follow a young Jamaican man rise up from the idyllic Jamaican countryside to the mean streets of Kingston Jamaica then equally rough but far greyer roads of 80s East London. We meet D (played as an adult with gusto by Kidulthood’s Aml Ameen) as a child following around his charismatic older brother Jerry Dread (Everaldo Creary) who has his own sound system. Violence between two rival gangs intensifies with innocent children getting caught in the crossfire and Jerry Dread thinks music might be the answer. Jerry creates a large music event to bring the two gangs together but is tragically killed.
Flash forward ten years, D now works for one of the gang leaders King Fox (played flambouyantly by Sheldon Shepherd) but is haunted by the death of his brother. He also has a daughter with his childhood sweetheart, Yvonne (Shantol Jackson), both back in London. After a fight breaks out, D is sent to London to complete a drug deal for King Fox for it go dramatically wrong. D struggles to strike out his own path in London, as well as with his efforts to rebuild a relationship with Yvonne and his adorable daughter, violence escalates and then he sees a familiar face from his past.
Elba’s directial debut is assured and ambitious with flashes of brilliance. He wears his influences on his sleeve and you can’t help but compare this to classics like The Harder They Come and City of God in its early Jamaica sequences. Elba creates a gorgeous, idylic background to the harsh violence which leads to a funny gag when our main character lands in grey London. Elba’s background as a DJ is apparent as in the excellent soundtrack that really helps to build the tone of the period particularly when we get to the London of 1983. The production design is incredibly detailed; they have achieved an impressive amount with a little and Yardie does not suffer the staged feel like so many other period films.
Despite a slightly clunky mythic (and melodramatic) opening, Elba’s film is paced well until the final third where things do unravel somewhat. The film is littered with fine performances. Aml Ameen is excellent as the films main character. D (short for Dennis) is stays grounded throughout and shows a realistic toughness. Shantol Jackson is also excellent as the woefully underwritten Yvonne. She is not given much to do but manages to show a strength that keeps her away from the cliché of the hang wringing gangster wife trope. Stephen Graham is as always, incredible. Here he plays Rico, D’s contact in London who turns into the main antagonist. Graham’s performance is over the top but fun and kinetic, as coked up Rico mixes his Jamaican Patois with East London cockney. Though there are so many opportunities for cliché, Elba manages to mostly steer clear of them through a mixture of excellent casting and a diverse storyline.
Due to its ambitions, the film does suffer from third act problems as Elba struggles with the different threads. The twist at the end though obvious, does lead to an almost satisfying conclusion that is more of a sizzle than the explosion we were hoping for. The film also completely side steps any social or political points that could have been made which I half expected, though this possibly is better than the way some crime films ham-fistedly make those points. It does make the film a little less effective, particularly since parallels to today’s social problems could easily be made. The mythical and supernatural elements of the plot are also very thinly realized.
I left the film hoping that there would be sequels, perhaps with Elba stepping in front of his own camera. Regardless, this is a solid first film and opens up an intriguing new career for Idris Elba.
Yardie is out now.
Words by Hamza Mohsin @lebadass.
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