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Wild Bill – London's East End goes Western in Dexter Fletcher's quality crime drama

A gang-ridden East End (opens in new tab) council estate, thuggish drug-dealers, a hooker with a heart of gold and an ex-con trying to go straight – yes, with Wild Bill (opens in new tab) we’re certainly in familiar territory, yet former child actor Dexter Fletcher (opens in new tab)’s directorial debut is a cut above the recent spate of British crime films thanks to the quality of the performances Fletcher gets from his cast.

Charlie Creed-Miles (opens in new tab) plays the eponymous Bill, newly out on parole after eight years in prison and determined to put his hard man past behind him. Yet on returning to his family’s Newham council flat, he discovers that his ex-wife has departed for Spain with her lover, leaving their two sons to their own devices.

Wild Bill - Dean and Jimmy

Fifteen-year-old Dean (Son of Rambow’s Will Poulter) is caring for his younger brother, 11-year-old Jimmy (Sammy Williams, Oval-teenie Probs in Attack the Block) by working illegally on the Olympic construction site. Dean would rather have nothing to do with his errant dad, but when social services come snooping he blackmails Bill into hanging around long enough to convince the authorities that all is OK.

Bill is caught between a rock and a hard place. If he stays he risks getting mixed up with his old gang and sent back to prison. Yet if he leaves it looks likely that naïve young Jimmy will be sucked into the criminal world and end up repeating the family’s sorry history.

And it’s here that Fletcher invokes the Western iconography suggested by his film’s title, as Bill shows that a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do and takes on the bad guys for a final showdown. Fortunately, save for a few Spaghetti Western (opens in new tab)-style close-ups, Fletcher doesn’t overplay the cowboy angle. Instead, he puts most of his efforts into creating a believable dynamic between the father and his sons, and it’s in this tangled skein of shyness, suspicion, loyalty and love that the film’s heart lies.

On general release from Friday 23rd March.

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.