Sundance London: Yardie

Directed by Idris Elba
Starring Aml Ameen, Mark Rhino Smith, Fraser James, Calvin Demba, Akin Gazi, Everaldo Creary and Stephen Graham

by Joanna Orland

Idris Elba makes his directorial debut with Yardie, based on the novel of the same name by Jamaican-born writer Victor Headley. In 1973 Kingston, Jamaica, there is a blazing turf war between gangs, and innocent peacemaker Jerry (Creary) finds himself caught in the crossfire. Jerry’s brother Dennis witnesses his brother’s shooting, and ten years later sets out on a path of vengeance. Taken under the wing of gangleader King Fox, it seems that Dennis’ fate is sealed as he is sent to London in a test of loyalty to his boss, and stumbles across his brother’s killer.

Touching upon the gangster genre, Yardie is never as hard-hitting or emotionally elevated as some of the classic films in this category. More sprawling than riveting, the film is riddled with more flaws than it is bullets. But, there is something rather on point with releasing a film about yardies in London as gang violence rates currently soar in the UK’s capital. An epidemic of sorts, this film doesn’t exactly explore the issue’s origins, but rather magnifies its deep roots. Gang violence is cyclical, a tale of vengeance, leading to another tale of vengeance, with someone getting caught in the crossfire, leading to another tale of vengeance. By setting Yardie in the 1970’s and 80’s, the film shows how far back this problem goes, and how little it has changed. It is a problem with a pattern that can’t be broken, only enhanced. A timeless issue that effects us today.

Directorially, the issues lie in the narrative. Using voiceover to convey a lot of the story progression, the emotion of the characters feel detached from the film. It’s a flat piece with little resonance in its specificity, only resounding in its relatability to today’s London. Although voiceover is often used as a narrative bandage to hold together a film, in Yardie it really does feel necessary as the dialogue is not only difficult to understand through its very regional dialect, but also through the quality of the sound recording. Whether it was the sound system of Picturehouse Central Screen 4 or the film print itself, the dialogue was muffled throughout and issues with the audio mix levels were prevalent, causing further disconnect between the characters and the audience.

In spite of such issues, Yardie still stands on the merit of its content and the representation it gives its subject matter on screen. It may not sit amongst other classic gangster dramas, but Yardie explores identity, culture, family and pride in a way that perhaps mirrors today’s London yardie society.


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