Director: Idris Elba.
Firstly, I want to apologise to Idris Elba, as I haven’t been so kind in recent years and openly admit that I’m not a fan and have criticised his decisions concerning the Oscars and the James Bond debate. Might not sound relevant to this film, but the reason I have to express this is because, this film, his directorial debut, proves that he’s more than just Idris Elba and I can fully appreciate what he represents. And for me, not sure whether this is out of turn, but this is certainly his Sidney Poitier moment.
Although I have express negativity in the past, I have to say I have found him equally inspiring. Even when concerning the criticisms. No one in the industry has spurred me to write such pieces other than Idris. His campaigns and projects prove that he is a champion of the people and recognises and respects the youth and the arts of today; and this is a prime example of that passion, of one man following his dream to be all he can be. Idris and this film embodies that.
Secondly, I want to express thanks to Odeon Cinemas, Massive Cinema, Yasmin Evans and Idris Elba for hosting a brilliant Q&A preview. Especially for answering my question which I’ll come to later. Something else I’m come to later is the music, and this preview screening was a great platform for both Kojo Funds and Skip Marley. Idris’ appreciation for music is obviously there.
Right, now I’ve finally got that out the way, let’s talk about the film. The story is based of the bestselling cult classic of 1992’s Yardie, written by Jamaican-born British author, Victor Headley. A book from small beginnings itself, being first published by a two-man business and was sold in unconventional outlets like hairdressers, clothing stores and even outside nightclubs.
Yardie was a term used for people living in cheap, government propped up homes or “yards” in the poorer parts for Jamaica’s capital, Kingston; and soon became affiliated with gang culture over here in the UK and elsewhere with anyone involved in criminal organisations and originating from Jamaica.
It’s a fictional story set mostly in London’s Hackney during the earlier eighties and focuses on one man’s life during this transitional era. Jamaican born, D (for Dennis) is sent to London after the murder of his brother to prevent things from escalating in Kingston and things don’t go so smoothly once over in London. Yes it has drugs, gang war, and violence but it really isn’t about all that and is about how this one man struggles to find his way in an already badly dealt life.
Although being a fictional story, it comes across as being an incredibly authentic film with some great work from the whole production in replicating the era in both cities. The film’s authenticity is something I’ll refer back to again, but in terms of story, this film gives us a cultural snapshot of the Jamaican explosion and really captures the era of 1980’s east London.
A lot of a film’s story relies on good performances and here the whole cast deliver. There’s a strong and powerful performance from Ameen, definitely a stand out role for him as D. He’s the confident, fearless young man that’s tormented by grief and revenge and is thrown into an unknown territory with only his wit and will to keep him alive. And equally Jackson, Graham and Shepherd really bring their characters alive, each adding their own weight to the story.
As for Idris’ direction, it’s brilliantly shot and superbly put together. You get a feel of what it was like on the streets of either city. For a directorial debut, Idris shines and I’ll be keen to see what he does next at the helm. Though, Idris isn’t exactly inexperienced in the field, having worked with a number of great directors. I asked him during his Q&A, who had the biggest impact and influence on making this film and I was honoured my question was answered; Idris saying it was working with Cary Joji Fukunaga on Beasts of No Nation that gave him the push and licence to make Yardie and the creative influence came from working with Ridley Scott, about adding depth to a scene, layering the shot. Something that is very evident here.
And now for the music. Because the music here has an integral part of the story. Possibly echoing a lot of what’s happening in our own gang culture today. Not that’s to issue any blame or trigger a debate, I’m simply stating that music was and obviously still is an expressional platform for youth to voice their anguish, issues and sorrows. This film really captures that essence and recreates that vibe with iconic tracks from Grace Jones, Yellowman, Burning Spear and Black Uhuru, including the new single from the legendary Bob Marley’s grandson, Skip Marley, singing his rendition of his grandfather’s classic “Johnny Was”. And with Idris being known for his disc jockey talents, this sounds very much like a personal collection and the quality of sound is exceptional, proving that Idris is a great appreciator of both art forms and really brings his understanding and craftsmanship to light.
Overall it’s a very powerful and dazzling film that’s often spiritual in parts. It’s not quite but close to what Singleton’s Boys N The Hood and Meirelles’ City of God all did for their genres and cultures. A film about a life pushed into a brutal world of criminality and difficult choices. Well done on a fine job Mr. Elba.
Running Time: 8
The Cast: 8
Job Description: 10
The Extra Bonus Point: 10 for an outstanding and impressive directorial debut from Idris Elba