There was a small amount of hype that surrounded Idris Elba’s debut feature, Yardie. That hype dissipated as swiftly as it was generated. Frustratingly, it’s easy to see why.
Yardie is the type of movie that British cinema should see more of. A successful black actor who’s as productive as he is popular on both sides of the Atlantic finally gets the chance to sit in the directorial seat and craft a film that can showcase young black talent as well as add another string in the bow of its multi-talented star. The problem with Yardie isn’t that it’s bad. For the most part, it’s a healthy distraction. The issue is that it doesn’t stand out. It’s a film that’s merely functional, and even a little too murky at points.
Yardie is the type of directional debut from an actor most are likely to see. It’s a small, self-contained piece that seldom takes any risks. Even Plan B’s uneven musical mosaic, 2012’s Ill Manors, had a certain charm due to the heights it wished to climb. Yardie is a relatively by the numbers rise and fall crime thriller in which it’s protagonist; D (Aml Ameen), haunted by the death of his brother in 70’s Kingston, moves to London in the ’80s to shift a key of coke given to him by surrogate father and Kingston Don; King Fox.
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It’s very easy to get a sense of where the film is heading, and Elba is more than willing to guide the audience to its expected point. However, Yardie is hampered by muddled storytelling, underdeveloped characters and a distinct lack of energy in the areas the film needs it most. Something which is slightly disappointing from a director who also has a solid career as a DJ. Despite this, Elba ensures that the London that D inhabits is an encompassing, almost claustrophobic affair, whether the character is wandering through crowded dancehalls and markets, or whether he is searching for a lost little girl against the looming backdrop of the high rises of central London. The film is quick to highlight that this is a committed tale, if not a fully commanding one.
Annoyingly, any cries of “is that all there is?” will certainly seem valid. One would have to peer through the pages of Victor Headley’s 1992 original novel to possibly find the expected culture clash of Jamaican gangsters on London’s streets. The film never really provides enough time with the various strands to ensure that everything comes together as well as it should. D’s love of music and his ability to connect with others through it is never really solidified. The romance between D and his first love Yvonne (Shantol Jackson) holds chemistry but is never truly released, meanwhile the audience’s poetic licence may be strongly tested when observing a few of the relationships of the supporting characters.
This doesn’t stop Yardie from being visually appealing and sporadically appealing. Actors turned directors often ensure that their cast is on point and Elba’s Yardie is no different. It’s possible to believe that the music and the vigour of the cast alone will ensure Yardie finds a decent home audience. For those expecting Yardie to truly leap out of the shadows may find that the film never fully finds a groove.
Yardie is now available on DVD/BluRay from Studio Canal.