In this retrospective look at Idris Elba’s directorial debut “Yardie“, Aml Ameen, who plays the lead role of Dennis “D” Campbell discusses how he prepared for the role, the film’s impact since its release and working alongside Idris Elba.
Join us at participating Odeon Cinemas across the U.K on Tuesday 22nd December for a special screening of Idris Elba’s directorial debut, Yardie. The screening will also include a Q&A with lead actor Aml Ameen (Kidulthood, Maze Runner).
“Set in ’70s Kingston and ’80s Hackney, Yardie centres on the life of a young Jamaican man named D (Aml Ameen), who has never fully recovered from the murder, committed during his childhood, of his older brother Jerry Dread (Everaldo Creary). D grows up under the wing of a Kingston Don and music producer named King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd). Fox dispatches him to London, where he reconnects with his childhood sweetheart, Yvonne (Shantol Jackson), and his daughter who he’s not seen since she was a baby.”
Join us at participating Odeon Cinemas across the U.K & Ireland on Tuesday 22nd December for a special screening of Idris Elba’s directorial debut, Yardie. The screening will also include a Q&A with lead actor Aml Ameen (Kidulthood, Maze Runner).
“Set in ’70s Kingston and ’80s Hackney, Yardie centres on the life of a young Jamaican man named D (Aml Ameen), who has never fully recovered from the murder, committed during his childhood, of his older brother Jerry Dread (Everaldo Creary). D grows up under the wing of a Kingston Don and music producer named King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd). Fox dispatches him to London, where he reconnects with his childhood sweetheart, Yvonne (Shantol Jackson), and his daughter who he’s not seen since she was a baby.“
Ever since the first trailer was released during the summer, Cats has been criticised for its unflattering and wrongly used special effects. Director Tom Hooper (The Danish Girl, Les Misérables) decided to use the comments from the public and critics to change his film, even until the last moment. Now that the movie is finally released, we can see the result. Sadly, we wish we could unsee it right after we watched it.
The search for a new life
She’s still very young but she has already been through so much. Victoria ( Francesca Hayward) is being abandoned by her parents and now finds herself in London all by herself. At first, she’s being looked at with a lot of contempt by other cats. They doubt if she’s one of them, one of the “Jellicles” cats, but after accepting her (until a certain degree), they invite her to the Jellicle Ball. During that annual ball, many cats can compete to go to a place known as the Heaviside Layer to undergo reincarnation. The winner is being crowned by the leader of the tribe, Old Deuteronomy (Dame Judi Dench). A whole new world is opening in front of Victoria. One that she discovers alongside magician Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson) and guardian of the “Jellicles” cats Munkustrap (Robbie Fairchild).
She meets many cats who each have their unique talent. You have Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson), Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), Bustopher Jones (James Corden) and Gus (Sir. Ian McKellen). Sadly, not everyone is welcome as Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), who once was a well-respected cat, is now being treated with a lot of fear and disgust. The big evening is about to arrive and so everyone’s ready to show off their talent but that’s not to the liking of the “Moriarty amongst the cats” Macavity (Idris Elba) as he wants to be the winner himself. He will do everything in his power to get rid of his competitors…
Cast by name and not by the (right) talent
When watching a film that’s based on a musical, you expect the performers to dance and sing their hearts out. Well, let us tell you. That doesn’t happen at all in Cats. We’re not saying that the cast isn’t talented (respect for both the A-listers as well as the newcomers) but most of them were cast for the wrong reasons. The two biggest casting mistakes are without a doubt Dench (Murder on the Orient Express) and McKellen (The Good Liar). They’re both esteemed actors but they just don’t fit in Cats. Their voices don’t match the songs and due to the terrible special effects, they can’t put their great acting on display. The result: Cringing moments and a waste of talent.
That putting celebrity names on the poster was more important than finding the right actors for the job is being proved by casting Elba (Molly’s Game) as Macavity and Taylor Swift as Bombalurina. In the original work, Macavity is a ginger cat that oozes evil and danger. Certainly not a dark-skinned (no offence here) one that brings even more funniness to the work. Oh and didn’t Swift her character hate Macavity in the poems? Well, not according to Hooper and his team.
There were some great casting choices in the film as well. The best one is certainly Fairchild as Munkustrap. He brings emotions, elegance, and class to this movie and it’s clear that he already had musical experience from his days when he performed in An American in Paris – The Musical. More magic and fun is brought to the screen by the very charming and delightful Davidson (Will). That Magical Mr. Mistoffelees song is one of the most captivating moments of the film. Cats also introduces us to the ballet dancer Hayward and she shines in her first full-length feature film. Hudson (All Rise) is the only one that could give us goosebumps during this film by signing Memory.
Special effects that aren’t special
The reason why the story, its touching vibe and the acting performances don’t come through is because of the special effects. It’s just too weird to see Dench as a cat (especially because it seems she’s wearing a collar) and making from the coloured Hayward a white cat just doesn’t do the trick at all. Also Wilson her cat taking off an extra layer of skin by unzipping it? Nope, Cats isn’t always eye-candy.
Not totally cat-astrophic
Do you need to see Cats or not? The question isn’t that simple to answer. They’re flaws when it comes to the characters, special effects, and casting but it’s certainly not like you waste one of the nine lives watching this film. The dancing, the signing of Hudson and that little spark of magic are the few elements that keep Cats alive.
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!
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