Idris Elba’s directorial debut is one of the best British thrillers of recent years
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When big movie stars decide to get behind camera and direct, it can go one of two ways.
Sometimes, we get Ben Affleck, making movies like Gone Baby Gone and The Town. But often, it goes the way of Angelina Jolie’s directorial efforts, Unbroken or By The Sea. Remember them? Or Ryan Gosling’s Lost River? Exactly. No one does.
Which is why we are happy to say that Idris Elba’s directorial Yardie, which hits cinemas on August 31st, definitely falls into the former category.
Elba, of course, broke through internationally starring as the brilliant, morally-complex Stringer Bell in the superlative The Wire - Yardie covers not-dissimilar territory but changes the setting to Elba’s native London.
Based on Victor Headley’s cult novel of the same name, it starts out in early 1970s Kingston, Jamaica, where our narrator D (Aml Ameen) is still just a kid. His elder brother attempts to unite the various warring gangs in the city via music, but is assassinated during what is meant to be a party for peace - leaving an emotional scar on D that he might never recover from.
The film then snaps forward ten years, and the now-adult D escapes to London after things go bad for him. He’s instructed to deliver a package to a connection in Hackney (a terrifying Stephen Graham), but ends up going out on his own – setting off a chain of event that will only lead to a dangerous end, and drag D’s London-based wife and daughter into the chaos.
The film crackles with vivid period detail. Authentic early 1980s clothes and cars film the screen. It depicts a London already lost to time – an East London that’s home to vibrant Turkish and Jamaican communities, not the trendy coffee shops and pop up galleries that populate the area today.
And then there is there soundtrack. Ska and reggae and booms throughout the film, but it’s not just Tarantino-style needle drops – Jamaican sound system culture is a massive part of the movie, and it really comes to life during the multiple sound clash sequences. Idris Elba has a notable side-line as a DJ alongside acting, and that first-hand experience has really given him an eye for capturing the energy of playing records to a live crowd.
The cast is also great. Aml Ameen made his name all those years ago as the lead in Kidulthood, and since then he’s had a few interesting roles, including Netflix’s Sense8, but Yardie really feels like a star-making role for Ameen. He is in nearly every scene, and is completely convincing, whether he’s being scary and intimidating, or introspective and remorseful.
It of course helps that he is backed up by a great ensemble cast. There's a host of British actors putting in great turns here - but special mention must go to This Is England, Snatch and Boardwalk Empire’s Stephen Graham. He’s always been great with accents, but here, he speaks with a unique meld of Jamaican and London dialects, playing a genuinely unnerving villain.
Yardie is a great London drama, which fans of films like Legend and This Is England should really enjoy. It also a great start behind the camera for Idris Elba – it is an incredibly accomplished, confident movie for a first time director. We’re excited to see what he does next.
Yardie is in cinemas August 31st. See Yardie ahead of its general release at an advance preview on August 23rd including Idris Elba Q&A + special guests. Book tickets: https://www.yardiefilm.co.uk/previewevent/