Dexter Fletcher has been a staple of British acting for the past 30 years starring in Grange Hill and reaching a zenith in terms of exposure when starring in Guy Ritchie's seminal Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Fletcher has always given the impression of an articulate and intelligent man, and therefore one for whom will not be put off by the director's chair.
Fletcher makes his directorial debut with Wild Bill, a film set in the East End of London in the shadow of the Olympic Village sprouting up around its characters. It tells the story of Bill (Charlie Creed-Miles), a convict just out of prison who returns home on parole after an 8 year sentence, who returns home to find his two boys Dean (Will Poulter) and Jimmy (Sammy Williams) alone after being abandoned by their Mother and fending for themselves.
Dean is the 15 year old who has had to grow up fast, working on the Olympic site to earn some money ('Go on then, go build me a velodrome!') whilst Jimmy is easily distracted from school. Bill learns that Social Services are on to the boys, so he acts up as the caring parent to make sure the boys are not kicked out of their home.
Bill's return leads to heads turning as drug dealers new in town get wind of him being back, the head of the gang Glen is played by Andy Serkis. A lot of the characters tell Bill things have changed, but so has Bill from the tearaway lunatic who would knock a man out sparko for even looking at him the wrong way - he seems a reformed character who yearns for the stability of a nuclear family and domestic household.
Fletcher should be applauded for getting the tone right on this movie. When you hear that an actor from gangster movies is doing a movie set in the East End of London, you fear for a kinetic, visceral spectacle. Far from it, here Fletcher has created a movie that has a lead character that grows in front of your eyes, the casting of Creed-Miles is key as his lack of pre-conceived notions means the audience can warm to him easier than say a Jason Statham/Nick Moran sole.
At times the film is very funny; there is a brilliant running joke with the boys fear of cleaning the toilet in the house and Fletcher is helped by the impressive ensemble cast which is what you would expect from an actor in the director's chair.
The title may allude to the notion of a western, and Fletcher does lend a certain few generic conventions of the the Western film - the stand off, the whore Roxy (Liz White) with a heart of gold, the boys who need a permanent father. Films that he doths his cap to are Unforgiven, Pale Rider and Shane.
The film ends somewhat ambivalently, yet it has such a great final shot which fixates on Creed-Miles who does nothing but look ahead at the horizon and his eyes tell the story.
The pleasure sustained from this film is that it is an amazing surprise which far exceeds any of the low expectations there may have been - people going to see a gangster film, will be surprised by seeing a very human piece told with great clarity and accuracy.
Wild Bill is released on Friday 23rd March nationwide and hopefully will receive a huge wealth of acclaim and box office fortune.