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'Wild Bill' review

By
Wild Bill

The realisation that Dexter Fletcher is now 46 years old is enough to make those of us who watched Press Gang or saw The Rachel Papers feel ancient. That his directorial debut is a gritty English drama featuring gangs, guns and girls feels inevitable.

The fear is that Wild Bill will be a sorry rehash of Fletcher's breakthrough adult acting role in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. And you can't help but feel that Guy Ritchie scraped through the bottom of both barrels all by himself by the middle of last decade, before finding redemption with Sherlock Holmes.

Well, fear not. Much like Robert De Niro's first venture behind-the-camera with A Bronx Tale, Wild Bill's story is less about the hopeless elder generation and instead all about the kids left behind.

When Bill Hayward (Charlie Creed-Miles) gets home after eight years in prison, he checks in on his sons Dean (Will Poulter) and Jimmy (Sammy Williams), only to find that their mother has long walked out on them and that the boys have no intention of him hanging around.

Wild Bill poster
Circumstances conspire to change that, and as the formerly "wild" Bill tries to escape the mistakes that got him banged up in the first place, his youngest son finds himself drawn into the same world.

Avoiding the obvious temptation for a cheap Lock Stock... knockoff, Fletcher's unfussy direction and quiet storytelling is remarkably assured. It's a story all about hearts rather than fists.

The youngest members of the cast are fantastic. Poulter especially shows that he can go very, very far indeed. Williams is equally convincing as little Jimmy, while Charlotte Spencer turns in a fine performance as Dean's wise-beyond-her years, pram-pushing love interest.

Whether these young stars can emulate their director and make that transition to adult roles remains to be seen, but on this evidence there's absolutely no reason why not. Before that happens though, they'll be top of the list for people looking for the best in young British talent.

In the supporting cast, Andy Serkis briefly pops up as a suitably menacing Mr Big, while Jaime Winstone passes over the tart-with-a-heart role to Liz White's Roxy and starts to show her range as a concerned social worker.

It would be easy to pick apart the dramatic clich├ęs and the odd credibility-testing contrivance, but as a whole, Wild Bill is well-meant enough for that to matter not-at-all.

Despite the gritty backdrop and tear-inducing moments scattered around, there are also laugh-out-loud bits of dialogue that keep things light and moving briskly along.

Against sizeable odds, Fletcher has delivered a tender, heartfelt and genuinely touching debut.


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