Yardie

Review by Christina Newland @christinalefou

Directed by

Idris Elba

Starring

Aml Ameen Stephen Graham

Anticipation.

A bouncy, well-soundtracked crime drama from Idris Elba.

Enjoyment.

A fresh look at an ’80s immigrant community from Jamaica to London, but patchy and predictable.

In Retrospect.

Enjoyable, but so deeply conventional that it feels a little played out.

Idris Elba makes his directorial debut with a partial adaptation of Victor Headley’s cult 1992 novel.

“You either go with the righteous, or you go with the damned,” is one of the pearls of inscrutable wisdom in Idris Elba’s feisty directorial debut, Yardie. It’s evident what path the film’s central protagonist, Dennis (Aml Ameen), is liable to go on, and relatively few surprises are thrown up concerning the criminal underworld into which he is dragged. Elba’s film, a partial adaptation of Victor Headley’s cult 1992 novel, is an enjoyable, by-the-numbers crime drama, notable for its depiction of a portion of black British life too often unseen by cinema audiences. Its evocative soundtrack is also worth mentioning, as it features a wide variety of reggae deep cuts.

Yardie opens in West Kingston, Jamaica in 1973, offering a voiceover to map out the various gang rivalries in the city at that time. Elba presents us with an island nation both vibrant with natural beauty and fraught with terrible danger. Dennis, or ‘D’, is a young man raised against a backdrop of violence and is coached in criminality by a local kingpin known as King Fox (Sheldon Sheperd). But this was not always the case: as a young boy, he had been utterly in thrall to his charismatic older brother Jerry Dread, who was shot down in front of him while DJing at a party intended to bring together two rival Jamaican gangs.

A decade later, D finds himself dispatched to London with a large amount of cocaine to sell on behalf of his boss. There, he discovers the man who killed his brother, and he goes on a mad quest for vengeance. D is also reunited with his estranged wife Yvonne (Shantol Jackson) and young daughter.

His family have travelled to London without him in an attempt to make better lives for themselves, and as such D is not a totally welcome sight. He eventually courts the wrath of London boss Rico (Stephen Graham), much to the dismay of his family. A rogue’s gallery of supporting players are found a little wanting in the character stakes, with a coke-addled Graham grotesquely cribbing a Jamaican accent. His weak caricature is one of several uneven points in a story whose predictability is a problem, with a bog-standard revenge plot doing little to keep things gripping.

Nonetheless, one of Yardie’s strong points is that it never attempts to overreach. The film slots firmly within the parameters of the crime genre, and makes no effort to redeem or soften its central character. Even when D is placing others at risk, who become something like collateral damage in his quest for revenge, the film makes no attempt to shy away or pass comment on his misdeeds. Nor does it delve into the machismo and destructive pride that makes Dennis the locus of such violence. This is a vibrant period piece with an eye for the special city of early ’80s London, with its bleak tower blocks, booming dance hall scenes, and ats with wall-to-wall yellow shag-rug. The Jamaican immigrant community are cloistered in their own neighbourhoods, and one of their alternative economies – the cocaine trade – also flourishes. Yardie does an excellent job at capturing this exhilarating and savage lifestyle, but often falls short when it’s doggedly cleaving to convention.

Published 30 Aug 2018

Tags: Idris Elba Yardie

Anticipation.

A bouncy, well-soundtracked crime drama from Idris Elba.

Enjoyment.

A fresh look at an ’80s immigrant community from Jamaica to London, but patchy and predictable.

In Retrospect.

Enjoyable, but so deeply conventional that it feels a little played out.

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