Idris Elba marked his foray into directing with an adaptation of Victor Headley’s ferocious book from 1992, Yardie. Considered as a quasi-sacred text amongst British Jamaicans, the page-turner focuses on the revengeful pursuits of a young Kingstonian man who moves to London’s East End in the 1980s. Elba has taken it upon himself to reshape the tale into an accessible slice of social history, but sadly the result is a messy mashup of crime-film cliches and shoehorned storylines that feel more like cultural shortcuts than fully developed plot points.

Idris Elba’s film is ambitious and full of well-intentioned energy, and it has the rare distinction of being a homegrown period drama that doesn’t concede to the popular whims of Downton-esque heritage films. Yet, for all the positives that it promised, Yardie couldn’t keep the weight of its expectations afloat, delivering instead a half-baked nugget of history that deserved far more complexity than it received.

Idris Elba’s excitement over his directorial debut is felt in the searing rage the film exudes, but the powerful emotions are sadly overcrowded by the sheer amount he’s tried to fit into his one film. Yardie is at once an immigrant’s tale, a family-ties drama, a parable of inner-city turmoil, and a platform for Elba the DJ to channel his love of music into a cultural expose of UK sound-system culture. There’s a lot of excellent material there, but none of the film’s threads ever get their full dues.

For all its flaws, however, Yardie’s cast does an exceptional job at holding the audience captivated, and lead actor Aml Ameen is eminently watchable, brimming with commanding charisma. The dialogue, largely spoken in patois, reflects an authenticity that is rarely seen in this sub-genre of British film.

Cluttered yet thinly woven, Yardie clearly demonstrates Elba’s love for the multicultural London of his younger years but fails to deliver the depth needed for its many sub-plots. It is undeniably an entertaining 1980s gangster thriller, but one which could have greatly benefited from a more focused lens.

(Photos copyright: Warp Films, BFI Film Fund, StudioCanal)

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