Film Review: YARDIE

Aml Ameen in Yardie (2018)

Aml Ameen as D in YARDIE (2018) © Alex Bailey

Despite its cluttered plot and thin characterization, Idris Elba brings flair and colour to Victor Headley’s eponymous cult classic YARDIE

It’s fair to say Idris Elba has his fingers in many pies. Alongside his career as an actor, producer and part-time DJ, Elba now adds director to his resume with the release of his debut film YARDIE.

Based on the eponymous cult classic novel by Victor Headley, YARDIE centres on the life of D (Aml Ameen), a young Jamaican man who has never fully recovered from the murder of his older brother Jerry Dread (Everaldo Creary). Growing up in 1970s Kingston under the wing of drug lord King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd), D is sent 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. But before he can be convinced to abandon his life of crime, D encounters the man who shot his brother 10 years earlier and embarks on a bloody, explosive quest for retribution – a quest which brings him into conflict with vicious London gangster Rico (Stephen Graham).

Sheldon Shepherd in YARDIE (2018)

Sheldon Shepherd as King Fox in YARDIE (2018) © Alex Bailey

Considering this is Elba’s first directorial outing, YARDIE certainly boasts the right look, the right sound and the right moves. Usually, British gangster films tend to be gritty, dim-lit and bathed in darkness but here Elba gives the film a welcome shot of colour. The scenes in Jamaica burst with lurid colours thanks to some beautiful work by cinematographer John Conroy and there are some well-constructed scenes which capture a true sense of community and ecstasy. Add in a textured, hand-picked soundtrack of vintage soul, reggae and dancehall cuts and YARDIE boasts a truly genuine vibe.

Shame then that film is somewhat hampered by thin characterization and cluttered plotting. Brock Norman Brock and Martin Stellman’s screenplay certainly gets the job done in terms of narrative but despite its swift pace, the film never quite captures the rolling energy of Headley’s original novel. Too many characters are employed and most aren’t given enough screen time for us to truly care about them. The film’s message is also somewhat undercut by an underwhelming conclusion, which leaves several plot threads hanging.

Stephen Graham in YARDIE (2018)

Stephen Graham as Rico in YARDIE (2018) © Alex Bailey

Thankfully, the cast is largely excellent with Aml Ameen, in particular, delivering a stand out performance as the primary protagonist, as well as Shantol Jackson as his wife. Elsewhere, Sheldon Shepherd is strong as D’s dodgy mentor and Stephen Graham is hilarious as London gangland villain Rico, even if his performance at times is a little misjudged. In fact, the only real issue here is the heavy Jamaican accents which at times are so difficult to understand that you feel the film could greatly benefit from subtitles.

That said, on the whole YARDIE is a compelling directorial debut for Elba and the film feels somewhat fresh thanks to the introduction of both Jamaican patois and culture into proceedings. An enjoyable debut from Elba with some attractive lead performances and a killer soundtrack.

3 out of 5 stars

YARDIE is released in UK cinemas from 31 August 2018.