Director: Dexter Fletcher
Another week, another British geezer-gangster thriller? Yes and no – Wild Bill is a cut above the general run of crime-themed London dramas, and hails from a somewhat unexpected source. As an actor, Dexter Fletcher has been a familiar face on British TV since the 1980s (Press Gang, 1989-1993) and is now perhaps best known for his turn as head-concierge Tony Casemore in Hotel Babylon (2006-2009).
On the big screen his pedigree is even longer and more illustrious: after debuting as ‘Baby Face’ in Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone (1976), he went on to work with such eminences as David Lynch (The Elephant Man), Derek Jarman (Caravaggio), Ken Russell (Gothic), Mike Leigh (Topsy-Turvy) and Michael Winterbottom (Jude). But it’s his collaborations with Guy Ritchie (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) which feed most directly into Wild Bill, where he steps into the director’s chair for the first time – 45 at the time of filming, he turned 46 in January.
Co-written with Danny King and producer Tim Cole (who also co-produces), Wild Bill stars Fletcher’s former Press Gang co-star Charlie Creed-Miles as the eponymous sometime villain, who as the film begins has just got out of nick after serving an eight-year stretch. Decked out in “old school” shellsuit and Burberry scarf, he heads back to his native London to find the city in the convulsive throes of pre-Olympic building-work – a tide that evidently raises all boats: “boom times for everyone in the borough!” grins one of Bill’s numerous former partners-in-crime.
Despite Bill’s attempts to stick to the straight and narrow, economic pressures (and the dictates of screenwriting convention) mean it’s only so long before the absence of decently-paid legal work will send him veering back to his old ways – though he’s now somewhat hangdog and downtrodden, ‘Mild’ Bill still has the spark of ‘Wild’ Bill lying dormant. Likewise, although his initial meetings with the sons he barely knows (and who have been fending for themselves in the nine months since their mother ran off with a new lover) – 16-year-old Dean (Will Poulter) and 11-year-old Jimmy (Sammy Williams) – are frosty-to-hostile, we don’t have to wait long for father-son relationships to begin thawing out…
Fletcher and company aren’t exactly seek to reinvent the wheel – this is terrain previously, and more skilfully, explored by Shane Meadows – whose London-set Somers Town (2008) likewise unfolded against a backdrop of a construction-industry largely peopled by eastern and central Europeans. But the familiar proceedings are executed with a fair measure of heart and humour, plus a range of strong performances – no surprise that Fletcher should turn out to be very much an “actors’ director” – with Creed-Miles and Poulter excelling, especially in their emotionally-charged scenes together.
Wild Bill, dedicated to Fletcher’s own recently-deceased father Steve, is a blokey affair that will speak most directly to men who’ve struggled to adapt to the demands and responsibilities of fatherhood. But it’s a likeably heartfelt little picture with sharp, nuanced dialogue and solidly-crafted characterisations and while its director probably won’t be giving up the ‘day job’ he’s been toiling at for the last 36 years, he joins recent BAFTA-winner Paddy Considine (Tyrannosaur) as a British name to watch on both sides of the camera.
13th Match 2012
written for Tribune magazine