On the surface, Dexter Fletcher’s directorial debut Wild Bill (2011) appears to be little more than yet another gritty independent British feature, seemingly conforming to the archetypal formula of such films to create yet another bleak piece of social commentary. However, thanks to a deeply heartfelt script and a cast which boasts a wealth of British acting talent (including Charlie Creed-Miles, Will Poulter, Andy Serkis and Jaime Winstone), Wild Bill successfully adds a fresh perspective to this overused and heavily saturated genre.
Out on parole after eight years of imprisonment, Bill (Creed-Miles) returns home to find the two sons he left behind fending for themselves after their mother carelessly abandoned them. Dean (Poulter) the eldest of the boys has found himself a construction job on the London Olympic site (despite only being 15) and has so far been the sole provider for himself and his younger brother Jimmy (Sammy Williams). Bill is reluctant to play father, with Dean equally uninterested in welcoming back his transient dad, however his release from prison has alerted social services and suddenly the threat of a life in care becomes very real to Dean and his younger brother – leading the boys into blackmailing Bill to stay and for all intensive purposes present himself as the caring father he should be.
The enjoyment of Wild Bill is derived from its incredibly nuanced and engaging performances. Unsurprisingly Fletcher, whose career so far has predominantly been spent in front of the camera, has focused on his tight cast to create a thoroughly immersive experience, with the audience instantly invested into the stories of these varying eccentric characters. Poulter is particularly excellent as Dean, a teenage boy thrust into adulthood by his precarious situation, perfectly capturing his character’s ‘wise-beyond-his-years’ facade whilst subtly allowing the fragile innocence of his age to sporadically trickle out with enormous effect.
Unsurprisingly (given the film’s Western-inspired moniker) there are some noticeable nods to the films of Sergio Leone, with multiple extreme close ups of grimacing expressions, tense face-offs and even an old fashion saloon brawl, however, it’s the transference of these themes to the East of London which is the key to the film’s narrative achievements. Constantly in the background, the regeneration of Stratford and its new Olympic site mirrors the film’s constantly evolving story, like a looming visual metaphor for the rapidly changing roles of the film’s protagonists – especially Bill whose hasty journey to redemption could so easily have seemed abhorrently contrived, yet strangely feels incredibly organic and totally believable.
Wild Bill is one of those rare films that through its palpable degree of energy and vibrancy manage to keep you rooting for its characters from start to finish. Fletcher’s debut may not be the instant hit that propels his directorial skills into the wider consciousness of the general public, yet he should be commended for creating a genuinely delightful piece of British social realism imbued with an abundance of charm and wit.