Idris Elba’s directorial debut Yardie is an adaptation of Victor Headley’s popular novel of the same name, tapping in to a community, and culture, seldom explored on the silver screen. As any Londoner would tell you, the Caribbean community’s imprint on the capital makes up such a integral part of the city’s identity, infusing a certain vibrancy and spirit that makes London what it is – and that has been captured to perfection in this absorbing pice of cinema.
Our tale begins in Kingston, Jamaica, where young Dennis Campbell, affectionately known as D., watches on as his older brother Jerry Dread (Everaldo Creary) is shot dead amidst a poisonous gang war, in spite of his neutral stance, as he had been an advocate for peace. This changes young D. and when he gets older (portrayed by Aml Ameen), under the watchful eye of a local drug dealer he is sent to London to help shift his product. His partner Yvonne (Shantol Jackson) resides in East London with his daughter, and while determined to reconnect with his family and be a committed husband and father, he falls into trouble when deciding to neglect his obligations with club-owner Rico (Stephen Graham), instead deciding to sell the product off his own back. Leaving behind a violent society, it seems he’s merely swapped one for the other as he must decide which path he wants to go down; knowing deep down it’s the righteous one he must follow.
Narratively, Yardie is a flawed endeavour, falling into predictable tropes, as the inclination for drama at times is contrived and unnecessary – while the overtly cinematic nature at times feels out of place (such as the exterior voiceover work in the opening act as D. narrates on his troublesome upbringing in Jamaica). But what it may lack in its story, it more than makes up for in heart, as a film that carries such a congenial, warm tone, despite the affecting themes at play.
The indelible atmosphere is displayed most prominently in the crowd sequences, whether it be at an outdoor festival in Kingston, to the smokey East London clubs, Elba does a fine job in capturing that sense of community and ecstasy that derives from moments where you’re caught up in a crowd, dancing and mouthing along to the lyrics of your favourite songs; a feeling not too dissimilar to that of which you can feel at the annual Notting Hill Carnival in London. The musical selections are excellent too, featuring the likes of Love Me Forever by Carlton and the Shoes, which makes up one of the film’s most enjoyable moments.
So while lacking somewhat in subtlety, it doesn’t detract from the viewer’s investment, as a compelling piece that marks an impressive debut for Elba. He may be in the infancy of his directing career, but in Yardie he’s shown much promise. If he can be half as much of a hit behind the lens as he is in front of it, then it’s fair to assume he’ll be just fine – and this would suggest that’s going to be the case.