A vague suspicion of familiarity is possible when reading a synopsis for Idris Elba’s 1980s-set directorial debut. A tale of gang violence in London’s criminal underworld doesn’t exactly make a proclamation of originality. This type of story is almost a classification unto itself. Perhaps one character will be called guv’nor by someone else, and maybe another will refer to a gun as a shooter. Admittedly, the latter happens at one point, and yet Yardie maintains a true freshness, bursting with energy despite its oft-explored themes.
After watching his brother and guardian being gunned down as a casualty of Jamaica’s gang wars, young Denis (Antwayne Eccleston) is taken in by crime lord King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd) – a man whose actions contributed to the violence plaguing Kingston. Fast forward six years, and Denis (played as an adult by Aml Ameen) is now one of King Fox’s most trusted enforcers. A trip to London to lay the framework for an intended drug network in the city goes awry and Denis finds himself marginalised by the marginalised. He is in danger as he tries to build a life of domesticity with his former girlfriend Yvonne (Shantol Jackson) and their young daughter, who live in the city.
In a picture that features rather a lot of violence, it’s not a spoiler to say that a number of characters don’t make it through to the closing credits. It feels weirdly unnatural that a few of them manage to splutter out a few distinctive dying words before their eyes close. These range from the prophetic, to the self-damning, to an unintentionally amusing stereotype.
A muscular film, Yardie doesn’t simply show or tell, it does both. Sequences are narrated by Denis as they happen, and, while a little overt, this blunt exposition doesn’t harm the movie. It’s unnecessary, and perhaps Elba needed a little more faith in his storytelling abilities, but it sure makes it easier to remember just who everyone is. Visually, Yardie is spectacular. Rather predictably, the scenes in the Jamaican sunshine burst with lurid colours, and though subdued once the action is transferred to London, the muted shades (featuring a lot of red) still cast an appropriate mood. Idris Elba has delivered a brilliant debut: brash, yet intimate and highly enjoyable.
Yardie is released nationwide on 24th August 2018.
Watch the trailer for Yardie here: