The promotional material for Wild Bill (2012) bore all the hallmarks of a mockney crime caper, down to it being the directorial debut of actor Dexter Fletcher who appeared in Guy Ritchie’s trend-setting Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). Fletcher’s film however is a very different kettle of fish; balancing the gritty East-London crime setting with a heartfelt comedy-drama.
Bill (Charlie Creed-Miles) is released from a long stretch in prison to find that his wife has taken off with all of his ill gotten gains abandoning their sons of 15 and 11, Dean (Will Poulter) and Jimmy (Sammy Williams), to fend for themselves. After inadvertently informing his parole officer that the boys have been neglected – causing a visit from social services – Bill is blackmailed by Dean into staying and playing happy families until the threat of he and his brother going into care has passed. Desperate not to ever go back to prison, Bill attempts to convince in the ill-fitting role of father, whilst also avoiding the local drug-dealing gangsters with whom he used to associate.
Naturally, those attempts aren’t entirely successful as Dean’s anger at his absent father make their home life uncomfortable whilst local kingpin Glen (Andy Serkis) informs his underlings to encourage Bill’s departure from London as he considers him a liability. Meanwhile, Bill befriends the hooker with a heart of gold, Roxy (Liz White) and Jimmy becomes embroiled in the hoodlum world his dad is keen to avoid.
Featuring a wealth of recognisable acting talent with Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Jaime Winstone, Marc Warren and Neil Maskell alongside those already mentioned, Wild Bill is a real surprise. The characters may be stereotypical, but they are deftly realised and the strong script by Fletcher and Danny King is brimming with charm and touching moments.
At its centre is Charlie Creed-Miles’ wonderful portrayal of Bill, the ex-con attempting to go straight whilst managing to absolutely convey the reasoning being his nickname. When he learns that Jimmy is being used by the drug gangs and is forced to confront them, he completely earns it. On a par with him is Poulter as the furious Dean who has had to grow up fast but lovingly cares for his brother as best he can whilst coyly wooing local girl Steph.
Blending a great soundtrack, an engaging screenplay and enjoyable performances, Wild Bill is an assured debut from Fletcher. Whilst its gangster contingent are relatively one dimensional, it’s not really them that the film is concerned with; it’s all about Bill and his family and they’re worth the watch.