Is this a gangsta film? A film about family? A look into working-class subcultures of 80’s London? Or a homage to 70’s Jamaica? The answer is all of the above and more. With so many elements packed into the film, veteran actor, Idris Elba, in his directorial debut, jumps straight into the deep end and does not disappoint.
Yardie, the film, is based on the novel of the same name by Jamaican born writer Victor Headly. Starting off in 1973 Jamaica, the film follows Dennis (known as “D”), who is played by Aml Ameen (Kidulthood, Maze Runner) as he deals with the killing of his brother amidst gang rivalry between warring factions: Tappa & Spicer. Through association “D” eventually strays into the drug business and is sent to London after a drug deal goes bad. What plays out is a story of redemption and retribution as “D” tries to reconcile his past, until he is forced to face them head-on.
The first 30 minutes of the film, which take place entirely in Jamacia serves as an extended introduction into D’s character. The scenes in England make up the rest of the film. The decision to split the film this way is creatively felt like the right choice. It allows us the opportunity to better understand the culture which underpins the narrative: from intergenerational relationships to spiritual belief systems. The latter part of the film which takes place in 1983 London. At this point, the pace of the film changes, focusing more on progressing D’s story.
Given the different competing elements in the film, Aml Ameen navigates his role as “D” in a way that feels authentic and believable. There is a fine balance to be had: not to overextend himself in a way that creatures a caricature of what he should be; but also to give enough range to the performance so that the audience is emotionally invested in his journey and interactions with his supporting cast. Thankfully, more often than not, Idris struck the right balance in directing Aml to bring the best out of him throughout the movie.
The supporting cast adds character and flair to what is already a very compelling narrative. Stephen Graham (This is England) pulls off an incredible performance as club-owner Rico. He is funny, eccentric and ruthless when he needs to be. Whilst it is not too dissimilar from some of the notable characters he’s previously played, he brings with him a gravitas to execute the character of Rico in a way that it is not too cliche and enjoyable to watch. A real jewel in the crown is Shantol Jackson’s character, Yvonne who plays Dennis’ childhood sweetheart and love interest. Her portrayal embodies much of the story Jamaicans coming to the UK in Marget Thatcher’s Britain would’ve gone through, particularly during the time period of the Brixton race riots. This is perhaps an area Idris could’ve have explored in greater depth; a more nuanced at how a lack of opportunities at the time, fuelled criminality. We are then able to look at D’s time in London in this context.
Yardie is a film full of charm and character, presented through lush cinematography. While it is technically a crime drama, simply calling it that seems somewhat limiting. It’s an ambitious film and serves as a great directorial debut for Idris Elba, but also for Aml Ameen and his fellow co-stars. Yardie is definitely a film you need to see (at least) once!
Our Rating: (4 / 5) (Fresh)
Yardie will be in cinemas later this year