Idris Elba (director)
1h 41m (length)
30 August 2018 (released)
02 September 2018
For his directorial debut, Idris Elba took inspiration from familiar territory, the Hackney streets of his youth.
The '80s were characterised by screaming headlines featuring the drug wars of Jamaican 'Yardie' gangsters, and the Luther actor has chosen to adapt Victor Headley's 1992 pulp fiction book of the same name.
Elba has turned Headley's violence-tinged text about a young Jamaican man's journey from his Kingston home to early '80s Hackney, east London, into a social history that references the struggle for survival in Britain post-Windrush, for many of its citizens from the colonies.
This period piece, with not a stiff petticoat in sight, takes viewers on a little-seen journey complete with unfamiliar accents, as we follow angry and tortured gangster 'D', played by former Sense8 star Aml Ameen, who leaves Jamaica for London in a bid to avenge the death of his brother, Jerry Dread (Everaldo Creary).
The film opens showing his childhood in the leafy hills of Jamaica, a lush green paradise which is shattered when a schoolgirl in murdered in a gang shootout. In a bid to end the fighting factions, Jerry throws a 'dance', an outdoor party, and tries to bring the gang leaders together for a truce. When this too ends in tragedy, D finds himself alone and is taken under the wing by Kingston Don and music producer, King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd).
After a violent altercation with one of his competitors, Fox dispatches D to London carrying a package of cocaine to deliver to flamboyant gangster Rico, played by Stephen Graham - complete with patois accent (Graham is of Jamaican heritage).
In London, D also reconnects with his childhood sweetheart from Kingston, Yvonne (Shantol Jackson), and his daughter who he's not seen since she was a baby.
His arrival in the British capital leads to some comical fish out of water scenes, as he meets and quickly falls out with Rico, and hooks up with a fledgling sound system crew called High Noon. But before he can be convinced to abandon his life of crime to follow "the righteous path", he encounters the man who shot his brother ten years earlier and his thirst for revenge is reignited, bringing him into conflict with Rico.
Aml is extremely charismatic as D and shows his versatility as an actor as he switches between hardened gangster, lover and doting father as he tries to rebuild his relationship with Yvonne.
Elba does a great job at fleshing out his main character, showing how the trauma in the earlier part of his life has impacted the adult now running around London hell-bent on revenge. The set design, in both Kingston and London, really adds to the authentic look of the film, and the inclusion of reggae classics and sound system culture really sets the tone of the movie and transports you back to the '80s.
Shantol Jackson also lights up the screen as the hardworking, no-nonsense nurse Yvonne, who is keen to leave all of the sadness and violence of life in Jamaica behind, but despite her distaste for D's lifestyle, her love for him won't let her abandon the gangster completely.
While some of the movie's scenes can seem cliched in parts, it is action-packed, humorous, and exciting to watch. Elba has assembled a great cast of actors in a gripping tale of guns, gangsters and sound systems in London.
You'll find yourself rooting for antihero D, and mentally planning a holiday to Jamaica while nodding your head to the classic reggae hits of the carefully assembled soundtrack.