Out 31 august CERT 15 / 102 mins
director Idris Elba
cast Aml Ameen, Sheldon Shepherd, Stephen Graham, Shantol Jackson
plot It’s 1983, and young Jamaican gangster D (Ameen) has been sent to London to smuggle cocaine. But, after angering local kingpin Rico (Graham), D strikes out on his own — and stumbles across a chance to avenge the murder that has haunted him for a decade.
There has been the sense, in recent years, of a rapid up-tick in Idris elba’s involvement behind the camera. We’ve already had sky One’s breezily autobiographical comedy drama In The Long Run; he is co-creator and star of upcoming netflix series Turn Up Charlie; and here, perhaps most intriguingly, is his proper feature debut as a director. If the proposed endgame for elba is a transition from film star to filmmaker, then Yardie — an occasionally stylish, robustly delivered period gangster flick, weighed down by a muddled third act
— is a solid, if unremarkable, first step on this path.
based on the cult 1992 novel of the same name, the film kicks off in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1973, where the expository Goodfellas-style voiceover flows as freely as the rum punch. We meet D, or Dennis, a young man from the rural hills (played first by antwayne eccleston and in later scenes by the impressive aml ameen) just as his idyllic childhood is ruptured by the murder of his peace-loving DJ brother, Jerry Dread (everaldo Creary). Ten years later, D is in the employ of lavishly lapelled druglord King Fox (shepherd) and is soon sent to smuggle cocaine to stephen Graham’s violently tetchy, patois-speaking London kingpin.
needless to say, things do not exactly go to plan. and soon, as well as trying to reconcile with his Londondwelling girlfriend (Jackson) and their young daughter, D is out to find the man responsible for his brother’s death who, handily enough, is also in the capital.
elba has a clear knowledge and fondness for the multicultural London of his childhood and — though the Kingston-set scenes are vividly rendered — it’s here that Yardie sparks to life and starts to feel a lot less like a generic ultraviolent drug saga transposed to the Caribbean. scenes depicting the DJ culture that’s pivotal to the story (and another elba obsession) fully plant you in the midst of all that heat, weed-smoke and chest-rattling noise. all the usual 1980s signifiers are present (hello, snarling punks), but there’s an enjoyable specificity to lots in Yardie’s world of trinket-filled Jamaican front rooms, locked rotary phones and north London Turkish cafés.
Performance-wise, stephen Graham’s turn — a cranked-to-11, coke-dusted frenzy of schizophrenic accent switching and mad cackling — is ridiculous but enjoyable. but ameen, still perhaps best known for Kidulthood, brims commanding charisma as D, and he’s ably supported by relative newcomer Jackson playing his flinty, despairing partner. In fact, as Yardie heads to an ungainly finale that somehow feels simultaneously cluttered and thin — replete with risible revelations, killings and the conclusion of an under-served subplot about the place of the paranormal in Jamaican culture — it’s the eminently watchable lead actor who holds it all together.
Verdict Neither a luridly enjoyable piece of Scarface-style pulp or a nuanced genre subversion, idris elba’s directorial debut is a fitfully entertaining 1980s gangster thriller.