Turns out Idris Elba's got some talent for directing in his debut film set on the 1993 novel Yardie, which brings a young Jamaican man to London with a brick of cocaine strapped to his leg.

Idris Elba, to the dismay of women the world over, proposed to his girlfriend, Sabrina Dhowre, at the premiere of his directorial debut, Yardie. For such a big decision, he must have seen fit that the film was something special enough to warrant the occasion. Reviewers who saw the film when it debuted in January didn’t give it much praise, saying it was ‘been-there-done-that.’ They aren’t entirely wrong.

At times the thick accents of the lead cast make some lines hard to follow, and the story is one we’ve ultimately seen before. Fans of Snatch, Layer Cake, and City of God will probably feel at home here. There’s an air of Guy Ritchie with a hint of the dark humour of In Bruges. The voiceover is an unnecessary addition, adding a sense of nostalgia to the story that has no basis in the narrative, but doesn’t prove itself a distraction ultimately.

Despite that, the story, based on Victor Headley’s novel of the same name, and adapted for the screen by Brock Norman Brock and Martin Stallman, feels vibrant.

Yardie follows D (Aml Ameen), who leaves Kingston, Jamaica ten years after the shooting of his brother at the hands of a child, and being taken under the wing of crime king pin, King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd). In 1980s London, Denis is entrusted to deliver a supply of cocaine to Rico (Stephen Graham), a club owner with a gang of Caribbean expats, otherwise known as Yardies, under his thumb. When D skips out on the deal, he runs for it, setting a course to find the mother of his child, Yvonne (Shantol Jackson), and the man who killed his brother.

Yvonne is less than happy to see him. Feeling suitably pertinent in the months following the Windrush scandal, Yvonne moved to London to escape Kingston’s gang wars, and make a life for herself and her child as a nurse. When Denis promises to make amends and leave a life of drugs behind after selling on his cocaine to a rival Turkish gang, she accepts him back into her life. As expected, it doesn’t go to plan for long.

Given the level of violence in Yardie, it is surprisingly funny in parts. A gang of would-be gang lords invading Yvonne’s home and attempting to steal D’s stash is one of the funniest moments in the film. DJ Sticks (Calvin Demba) makes for welcome comedic relief as a dim-witted wannabe DJ-cum-gangster who makes it surprisingly far given the crowd he hangs out with.

Elba’s film succeeds most in its effervescent depiction of the underground black culture of 1980s East London. Soundclash culture thrives behind the soundtrack featuring reggae that teeters on the brink of feeling contrived. Stephen Graham’s Rico probably tips the balance over into cliche with his half-cockney, Del Boy impression and faux-Jamaican accent, but on the whole London’s sub-sub-culture is well lit.

Following the traditional moral dilemma of gangster thrillers, D has to decide for himself how to get back on ‘the righteous path’, and ultimately it’s never really clear if he makes it or not. But it’s still a joyride getting there.

★★★★☆

Yardie is showing as part of Sundance London.