by Patrick O’Connor
A first glance at the synopsis of this film could easily put you off – drug dealer returns home on parole after eight years banged up to find that his wife has walked out on their two sons aged 15 and 11 leaving them to fend for themselves.
Add in the setting – the council estates of East London in the shadow of the Olympic site in 2012 – and you have all the ingredients for a grim, unappealing tale.
But first time director Dexter Fletcher has produced a real gem with Wild Bill, a touching, often humorous story about how a man comes to terms with what being a dad really means.
Don’t worry, there is no American schmaltz on offer here – there is still plenty of grit and suffering – but the narrative is generously littered with so many life-affirming moments, that you just can’t help loving this film.
And the director has also succeeded in extracting award-winning performances from his three main characters, Charlie Creed-Miles as the dad, ‘Wild Bill’ Hayward, Will Poulter as the elder son Dean and Sammy Williams as young Jimmy.
Poulter especially is mesmerising, a child forced to grow up quickly in the absence of any parents, who initially pours scorn on his father’s return. His dazzling mature performance oozes anger, frustration and bewilderment.
The plot revolves around Bill’s attempts to stay on the straight and narrow – and keep his children away from the clutches of social services – whilst at the same time trying to restore himself into an environment seething with all the usual inner-city demons such as the local villains who once held him in such high esteem.
But his attempt to go straight has left them unsettled – because if he ain’t one of them, is he against them? Matters spiral when Jimmy is recruited as a runner by Bill’s old cohorts and the scene is set for a grand confrontation in a local pub, reminiscent of many a Western movie climax.
Finally, watch out for a brief but lively and deliciously over-the-top cameo appearance as crime overload Glen by Andy Serkis, better known the template and voice of the computer-generated Gollum in Lord of the Rings.