If you were to ask critics to make a short-list of up-and-coming British film-making talent, chances are that Press Gang/GamesMaster/Guy Ritchie alumnus Dexter Fletcher wouldn’t make the cut. But with the release of Wild Bill, that’s a list that needs to be hastily amended as his directorial debut is one of the best British films of the year.
Set amid the grey concrete of London’s tower blocks, run down pubs and the ever growing scaffold of the Olympic development, Wild Bill stars Charlie Creed Miles as the eponymous Bill – fresh out of prison after an eight-year stint and desperately trying to stay on the straight and narrow.
His plans to scarper up north for a fresh start are scuppered when he finds that his two sons – wayward 11 year old Jimmy (Sammy Williams) and furious 15 year old Dean (Will Poulter) have been left to fend for themselves because their mum has done a runner to Spain forcing Dean to become something of a surrogate father.
Bill is initially reluctant to accept any parental responsibility and Dean wants nothing to do with him, but after he’s blackmailed by Dean into staying so they don’t get taken into care, he eventually warms to the idea. Determined to make a clean break of it and keep his nose clean, Bill has his work cut out for him as his old crew being to circle him with the intent of dragging him back down to his old habits of “10 pints, two lines and a punch up”.
The dialogue is sharp and crackling, often laugh-out-loud funny and wryly observant while sidestepping the clichés of the genre (all too easily this could have been a knock off Guy Ritchie project). Fletcher wisely focuses more on the family dynamics rather than the cockney gangster elements, skilfully steers around clichés and delivers an absolutely blistering conclusion.
This is all thanks to an excellent cast which includes Brit flick regulars Jason Flemyng, Sean Pertwee and the familiar menace of Neil Maskell as well as Liz White who brings humour and wit to what could have been a stereotypical “tart with a heart” role.
But though the supporting cast are a frequent joy, the real highlights are the three leads. Charlie Creed Miles is superb as Bill. Trying his best to resist his old impulses but with temptation around every corner, he’s like a modern day estate version of Unforgiven’s William Munny, albeit with the sharper edges sanded down.
Just as good is Will Poulter (Son Of Rambow, TV’s School Of Comedy), now making the welcome leap from child to adult roles with assured confidence, a boy forced to grow up far too early for the sake of his family. Finally the young talent of Sammy Williams as tearaway Jimmy is something that’s impossible to overlook.
Wild Bill is a must-see, a film that is not only relentlessly entertaining, clever and emotive but also features a generous slice of social commentary, a sly riff on the Western genre, memorable performances from its excellent cast and establishes Dexter Fletcher as an emerging new writing/directing talent. Great soundtrack too.