A Sundance Sneak Peak at “Yardie”
by Leon Sommer-Simpson
“Yardie” marks an impressive directorial debut of London born actor Idris Elba. Adapted from the 1992 published novel of the same name, “Yardie” follows a young Jamaican expatriate’s ride to the top of the drug-dealing scene in London. The novel has embedded itself in Londoner culture; a mobster crime novel which gained cult status, in part through its sales outside of nightclubs, in hair salons, and on top of overturned dumpsters. Steve Pope, co-founder of Yardie’s publishing company, X-Press, said "It was the first populist black title aimed at a black audience.” The word “Yardie” has a number of meanings, including Jamaican expatriate, and a member of a Jamaican gang or posse.
The film begins set in 1973 Kingston, Jamaica. The protagonist, Dennis (also known as “D”), idolizes his brother, who sets out to end gang violence in the ghetto. When the violence spirals out of control, Dennis is haunted by what he has seen, and finds himself joining a local posse. By 1983, Dennis goes to London to complete a deal, and finds a home there. Despite his violent crimes, Dennis is at times a sympathetic character, and at other times despicable, which leaves the viewer in an ambiguous zone. The setting in both Jamaica and the projects of London bring about gritty realism: the sunny, rusty streets of Kingston, and the druggy nightclubs and soggy courtyards of the London projects. Elba grew up in the London Borough of Hackney, and claimed that much of the movie setting reflected the setting of his own upbringing. Many of the same faces in the film are the same ones he saw in his own youth. Elba made sure to interview his Jamaican actors and try to emulate the experience they remembered from Kingston. These settings, and a fantastic reggae soundtrack, in combination with a cinematographically beautiful effort by the camera crews, immerse the viewer. The acting in “Yardie” was solid throughout, with a few standout performances, such as druglord Rico, portrayed by Stephen Graham.
Overall, where “Yardie” struggles is essentially with the limited plotline offered by the book it is based upon. The novelty of the London scene, and the one-dimensional love storyline wear off, and “Yardie” rests in stagnation like a record on loop. All contributing elements of the film were pulled off in style, but “Yardie” could’ve found more success as a short film, perhaps, or with a few more twists and turns. Elba clearly demonstrates his directorial chops, however, so expect to see his name on blockbusters as both an actor and director in the future.