3 stars
Director: Idris Elba
Stars: Stephen Graham, Aml Ameen, Mark Rhino Smith
Duration: 101 mins
Class: 15
KRS Releasing Ltd

After witnessing the brutal murder of his brother who was attempting to broker peace in the violent, gang-ruled streets of Kingston, Jamaica, young D (Aml Ameen) is taken under the protection of gang leader and music producer King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd).

A few years later, after an altercation with a rival gang member, D is sent to London, ostensibly on an errand for Fox. On arrival in London, D discovers that the man responsible for his brother’s murder also lives there. D’s thirst for revenge comes flooding back, distracting him from the errand at hand, thereby incurring the wrath of psychopathic London gangster Rico (Stephen Graham). At the same time, he tries to reconnect with his former girlfriend Yvonne (Shantol Jackson) and the young daughter they have together.

Yardie is a term coined to describe people of Jamaican origin, and also used by the authorities to describe a member of a Jamaican or West Indian gang of criminals.

The film’s premise, in fact, follows one of the genre’s oft-used tropes – that of the young gang member who grows up in a life of crime and tries to get out only to be sucked back in.

Yardie is based on the 1992 cult novel of the same name by Victor Headley. Selling copies fast on the back of strong word of mouth, it soon became a cult hit. One of the book’s many fans at the time was a young Idris Elba, who says the story “stuck to my ribs for many years”.

So, when the opportunity arose for the star actor to direct the film – his debut behind the camera – he grabbed it.

If the story follows a predictable path, Elba goes a long way in creating an authentic gangster world. Together with his costume and set design team, he adds much authentic colour and atmosphere in his depiction of the Jamaican community both at home and in England.

1970s Kingston is beset by poverty and ruled by gun violence and the volatility and danger is palpable in every scene; while the gang life is alive and thriving in the 1980s Hackney, London, where D ends up.

It is all set to a lively, punchy, Reggae-infused soundtrack which inexorably draws the viewer into the scene. The music plays an integral part in the plot too, with a ‘toasting’ (the Jamaican version of rapping) scene setting up the film’s climax. The film eschews Hollywood-style slick, glossy action sequences for more down-to-earth gritty ones.

The characters are visually attention-grabbing – take a bow, the flamboyantly-named and dressed Fox with his eye-catching hats and glasses; and Rico with his tight perm and nervous violent energy and, it must be said, erratic accent (whether purposely or not I couldn’t tell).

It’s a sturdy and sympathetic turn from Ameen as D, a young man trying to do right by both his dead brother, who he feels compelled to avenge; and to Yvonne (tough and vulnerable at the same time) who seeks nothing more than a normal, tranquil life. Yet he is torn between the two worlds, the one trying to tear him down the other trying to build him up.

And yet, for all its visual splendour, its colourfully drawn characters, and its ultimately straightforward plot, I confess that I found developments rather hard to follow as the characters all speak with a lilting, yet thick Jamaican patois.

It significantly adds to the authenticity of the story, yet takes away much in terms of the viewer engaging with the characters. It all gets a little lost in (non)translation, which made the experience a tad frustrating, and I think sub-titles would have gone a long way in making the experience more enjoyable.

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