Yardie is a major project about a Jamaican gangsta out to crack the cocaine market in North London — but Elba wants it to be a morality tale, not a glamorising piece.
He has picked Aml Ameen — a British actor who has worked on both sides of the Atlantic in films such as Kidulthood and The Maze Runner — to play the lead role of D, a small-time dealer who slips into London from Kingston, Jamaica, on a fake passport.
He hatches a plan to emulate the other drug kingpins, and then take over their territory, using a campaign of cold-blooded terror.
There’s a powerful exchange in the film’s source material (the cult novel of the same name by Victor Headley) where D meets Piper, a sage Rastafarian who bemoans the fact that the streets of London are flowing with blood because the calculating D wants to remove all rivals and enemies. Permanently.
It’s D’s way of doing business. But Piper, speaking in Jamaican patois, questions D’s methods: ‘One time, if two man have a quarrel, dem would fight it out with dem strength.
‘At the worst, one would get cut up but not’ing more. Nowadays, it’s pure killing.’
It’s noteworthy that Elba is playing Piper, a man trying to eschew violence.
And it’s of further significance that the project — set in the Eighties — is being made at a time of worsening turf violence in certain districts of London.
Elba and his collaborators at Warp Films, StudioCanal and BBC Films, have cast some superb young actors. They include Naomi Ackie — who appears alongside Florence Pugh in the acclaimed BFI movie Lady Macbeth; Duramaney Kamara, who was in Leo Butler’s play Boy at the Almeida Theatre last year; Anthony Foster, who was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Haymarket (as well as Elba’s music video, Unstoppable); and Calvin Demba, sublime in Patrick Marber’s play, Red Lion, at the National two years back.
Shantol Jackson will play D’s ‘Baby mama’.
Elba will take his Yardie cast and crew to shoot on locations in Jamaica in late June.