Film Review: Yardie

Badman Ting Flim

Given that a loving smile always glides across my face any time that I walk past a Caribbean restaurant or take away, there was a somewhat innate bias rooted deep within me when heading along to see the directorial debut feature film by the man who seems to have zero awareness of inabilities to do anything badly, the man, the giant, The Idris Elba. The film, ‘Yardie’ (2018).

Yardie Movie Review

There’s not many things I pine for normally, but given my nationality, I will travel for a decent Guinness, I’ll also travel for curry goat. Maybe not as far as Jamaica (yet), but living in South London you’re thankfully never far from a some soul fulfilling jerk, salt fish and roti. Also being in London you’re never far from a soundsystem. Years ago living in Oval, someone who I never met, but will always LOVE, used to drag their speakers out onto their balcony on sunny weekends and play the most sublime reggae, in my mind recreating that iconic scene in Mathieu Kassovitz’s ‘La haine’ (1995). I was a foreigner living in foreign lands, listening to the sounds of yet another country and culture, and I loved it all.

These aren’t mindless meanderings, despite the film being about Jamaican characters, initially in their home country, there’s a point in the story where out of necessity, things move over to East London where the culture was to weave it’s beautiful colours into the fabric of society, good and bad.

The movie, based on the 1992 cult status book of the same name by Jamaican-born British author Victor Headley, is a multicultural blend of Trainspotting, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with a lot more sunshine, much better food, beautiful language, stunning soundtrack and sublime style being that it’s set in 70s/80s Jamaica/London. It’s being primarily being pitched as a gangster film, and to the greater extent that’s true, but it is so much more. Despite the moments of violence and criminality, this is an immense celebration of an entire culture, in a very loving and faithful way. True there are very adult themes and subjects, but there are also profound universal notes of identity, responsibilty, family, relationships, diaspora, and cultural identity in foreign lands.

These universal themes have the added depth of black culture and it’s standing in UK society, which unfortunately at present (& historically) is being used negatively by right wing political parties especially in the recent contempt for the Windrush generation. In that context, it was a wise move by Idris and the writers to tone down some of the extreme violent aspects of the book.

From the opening magical notes of the first song that leads us into the story and the lush hyper green hills outside Kingston, the youthful main character ‘D’ (Dennis) is presented with the concept of the choice of path everyone has to choose in life. Given the name of the movie, it’s pretty obvious which badman path he’s ultimately going to go down.

To be fair there aren’t really that many options of careers in the gang lead areas anyway, it’s sort of inevitable, for financial and actual survival given that there’s an on going war between rival gangs.

D’s older brother Jerry Dread (Everaldo Creary) has always and admirably walked the righteous path and tries to quell the violent storm with the power of his soundclash soundsystem, creating an impromptu peaceful event where all are welcome. This ends in tragedy and the fuse is lit that becomes D’s life.

He is taken under the wing of one of the gang leaders, King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd) and slowly moves up the ranks in trust and criminality. Yet his brothers murder, and ghost are never far from his mind, the trauma of it somewhat guides his actions, and who he is becoming as a man.

Of course everything escalates and D is sent London to develop connections to ship drugs over on a regular basis. It is here that he meets the local kingpin and somewhat maniacal Rico (Stephen Graham), where things go from bad, to worse.

That’s the core of the film, but as mentioned previously, it’s substantially deeper than that. The celebration of the culture, like a sublime curry permeates every morsal of the film, every bite and frame is bursting with authenticity and original ‘erbs. To it’s absolute credit the colloquial accents are only slightly toned down, which may lead to subtitles in some countries, but to me was a pure joy to hear the musicality of the genuine language, it brought a wonderful and sincere affection to it all, and of course respect.

As mentioned, the soundtrack is incredible, a time spanning mix of the multitude of artists that have come from Jamaica and beyond, and this beauty is matched with rich cinematography (John Conroy) that captures the vibrancy of the island and the times.

The casting all round is fantastic, Aml Ameen brilliantly bringing a vast range to the older D, growing hand in hand with Shantol Jackson who plays Yvonne, his sweetheart since childhood. Graham’s turn as Rico is truly riveting, and keeping true to the culture as his grandad was Jamaican in real life too, which also explains his stunningly spot on accent. This truth wraps the entire casting, with a vast array of true Jamaican actors that enhances the entire experience.

Again it’s not all badness, as you would expect from the culture, there is a huge amount of comedy, particularly if you are familiar with the Jamaican nuances.

Yes some elements are relatively straight forward, but for me, there was just too much to love to be affected by that, and for a first time director, it’s ridicously good. The clear love for story telling and affection for a culture is so strong that it swept me away with the heavy bass of the soundclash. There are a couple of more chapters in the book series, I really hope Yardie is a huge success, and that they both get made into films, by the very same people that made this one. Mi gaan.

8/10 ‘Yardie’ is out now.