As an actor, Dexter Fletcher has a fairly respectable CV. Growing up he worked with David Lynch (on The Elephant Man), Derek Jarman (as the titular Caravaggio) and Alan Parker (making his debut in Bugsy Malone), while of late he’s been something of a muse for Matthew Vaughn, appearing in three of that particular filmmakers four films, which in turn spun off from a relationship forged during Vaughn’s days as a producer for Guy Ritchie, in which Fletcher appeared in his Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, which is probably his most notable on-screen performance to date. Elsewhere he’s appeared in everything from Press Gang and Topsy-Turvy to Band Of Brothers. Alas now Fletcher has turned his hand to directing, with the results being the rather impressive Wild Bill.
Wild Bill concerns two generations of an East London family. The titular Bill is the patriarch of a disjointed family unit: during a tenure in prison his wife has fled to the continent with a new love, leaving their two sons, Dean and Jimmy to fend for themselves. At 15 years old and 11 respectively, the situation sees Dean take on the father role, and he the one who struggles most to accept his father upon his return. When the younger brother falls in with the wrong people Bill takes responsibility for his sons for the first time, in an attempt to prevent history from repeating itself.
As noted in the introduction above, Wild Bill is a very impressive debut. Fletcher’s film has a real air of authenticity about it, with said legitimacy usually the first thing to falter in any “Mockney” crime flick. Unlike the aforementioned Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, to take an obvious example, one believes the world being presented by Fletcher. In spite of this legitimacy there is very much a purposeful stylisation on display, lending the film a feel somewhat distanced from pure realism. This is backed up by the roles of the main characters, with each one not only representing a “real” person but also performing a symbolic duty. Dean stands for responsibility: he’s taken on the role ignored by others, and is actively seeking to make a better life for his brother. In turn Jimmy represents potential, with his narrative arc straddling the two possible outcomes laid down by the situation at hand. The main players are solid. Charlie Creed-Miles is on fine form as the eponymous character. It’s a great central turn, one informed by a schizophrenia that provides the basis for a powerful and multi-layered performance, while Will Poulter and Sammy Williams ably portray their young characters in the face of the complex situations faced by the brothers. A recognisable supporting cast made up of, amongst others, Andy Serkis, Jason Flemyng and Jaime Winstone also impress.
It’s by no means a perfect movie (the fact that it features one of the most cringe-worthy sex scenes this side of a Zack Snyder film puts paid to that, and some of the performances fall a little flat), but as a slice of great British cinema (pun intended) it succeeds hugely, and features a genuinely moving closing scene that will resonate long after the credits have rolled. An unfortunately timely dedication precedes said credits, and serve as an impromptu reinforcement to the overriding theme of the film, underlining the emotional core of Fletcher’s debut.