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Sundance Film Festival 2018: Yardie review - Aml Ameen shines in directorial debut from Idris Elba

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Idris Elba’s directorial debut Yardie, based on the novel by Victora Headley, stars Aml Ameen (The Maze Runner, Sense8) as D, a young Jamaican sent to London to complete a drug deal … but the plot thickens as he follows the trail of his brother’s killer.

The film’s prologue and various flashbacks star a young version D, who does a fantastic job at cementing the emotional core around which the whole film revolves: D’s relationship with his brother, Jerry Dread (Everaldo Cleary). The strength of those opening scenes, and the haunting power of Jerry’s restless spirit wandering the earth truly elevates this drug-fuelled revenge story.

Shantol Jackson plays D’s wife Yvonne, who moved to London with their young daughter years ago to give her a better life away from the gang wars that plagued Jamaica. She’s a fantastic element that brings a much-needed different perspective to the single-mindedness of D’s self-imposed mission. She’s never relegated to the status of simply an accessory in D’s story — her own journey and agency to affect the events of the film are given the importance they rightfully deserve, and Jackson is a perfect match for Ameen in both softness and steel.

The wily King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd) masterminds the drug deals from the safety of his record business back in Jamaica, and his larger-than-life colourful personality is a reflection of how the young D saw him: as a saviour after the death of his brother. The dissonance between that and the gun-toting drug-mogul gang-leader perfectly conveys D’s childlike perspective — his development to some degree was frozen at the moment of trauma, and it’s evident from the way he behaves.

Ameen is an absolute triumph, balancing fury and vulnerability with an ease that not many can maintain. Though the decisions D makes are often reckless, Ameen’s absolute commitment to the emotions behind them keep the audience firmly rooting for him throughout the film. The emotional turmoil that roils under the surface of the film is effortlessly handled by a young lead with a bright future ahead of him.

80s London creates a totally different world to become immersed in from the bright jungles of Jamaica - a dreary city with a lively underground reggae scene. The community of ‘Yardies’ — Jamaican ex-pats and diaspora nicknamed such because Scotland Yard was always on their case — that populates the film is rendered with such care that it’s clear to see the personal connection Elba has with the source material. As a DJ himself, the musical elements of the film are as integral as the dialogue — a peace-bringing force that crosses oceans and brings people together.

Though the plot is fairly predictable, its richness as a character and period piece makes this film what it is. The importance of giving a platform to underrepresented stories cannot be overstated, and Yardie represents the power of diverse creators helming such projects. There is no pandering to its audiences — the characters speak Jamaican Patois as much as they do English, and the authenticity is invaluable in creating the world of the film.

The only weaker link is Stephen Graham in a bizarre role as Jamaican accent-affecting London gangster Rico. He’s meant to be sinister, but it falls flat in comparison to the performances around him. Luckily, it doesn’t detract too much from the enjoyment of the film, since his character is more of a plot device than anything else. 

Amongst all the breakout stars of the film, deserving of mention is Calvin Demba (Kingsman: The Golden Circle), who demonstrates remarkable range as London youth Sticks, whose mini gang befriends D after a small misunderstanding. His career is another’s, alongside Aml Ameen’s and Shantol Jackson’s, that’s due for a fast rise.

Yardie hits cinemas on August 24th, distributed by StudioCanal.

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