Dexter Fletcher has a fine film pedigree: Bugsy Malone (1976), The Elephant Man (1980), The Long Good Friday (1980) and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) are just a few of the movies on his 30-year CV, and his directorial debut Wild Bill (2011) – starring Charlie Creed-Miles, Will Poulter and Liz White – bares all the hallmarks of an experienced old-hand.
Creed-Miles plays Bill, an ex-drug dealer with a history of violence who returns to his former East London stomping ground after an eight-year stretch in prison. Determined to clean up his act and disappear off to Scotland, Bill’s plans are put on hold by his two sons, Dean (Poulter) and Jimmy (Sammy Williams) who have been abandoned by their mother and left to fend for themselves in a grim tower block flat. Dean isn’t happy about his father’s return and wants him gone, but when the social services become involved he is forced to cohabit with Bill until the powers that be decide they are no longer at risk.
Meanwhile, paranoid local gangster Terry (Leo Gregory) and his mob think Bill will return to dealing and muscle in on their turf, so are anxious for him to leave the borough. Suffice to say things get complicated and despite Bill’s efforts to go straight and cut all ties with the past, the past just won’t leave him be.
Clearly influenced by the work of British directors Mike Leigh and Guy Richie (Fletcher has been directed by both), Wild Bill succeeds in it’s portrayal of a lower working class family trying to survive in a harsh inner city environment. Creed-Miles and Poulter are both solid and believable but it’s the two female leads Roxy (Liz White) and single mother Steph (Charlotte Spencer) who provide the standout performances.
The Richie influence, however, is detrimental to Fletcher’s film. Wild Bill’s gangsters are all plastic cartoon characters with little or no air of menace, especially head-honcho Glen (Andy Serkis) who is 99% polyethylene and about as scary as a pillow fight. The cameos are also distracting, and as much as you appreciate the likes of Jason Flemyng, Jaime Winstone and Sean Pertwee agreeing to do a turn in their pal’s first film, their appearances can be distracting and shatter the film’s realism somewhat.
Although Fletcher’s directorial influences are clear, he does prove that he is very much his own man. Most of the action is played out against the backdrop of London’s Olympic stadium (which Dean works on as a labourer) and it’s obvious the director is making a social comment about the capital and the enormous wealth living side by side with enormous poverty. Wild Bill is a film that the promoters of London 2012 would like to see buried at the bottom of the bargain bin and for that reason alone, it’s one to watch.
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