Deadwood 2011: Wild Bill

This isn’t the sort of film that you should come away from feeling good; but you do.  It’s not the kind of film that should leave you with hope for the future of the characters; but you have.

Wild Bill is also one of the best British films to be made last year.  It is an outstanding piece of work from co-writer (with Danny King) and first-time director Dexter Fletcher, who handles tough material with a light and deft touch, yet without becoming schmaltzy or sentimental.  The only way that you might come away from it feeling disappointed is if you went because of the blatantly dishonest advertising.  (Dishonesty in Adverting?  Surely not.) Perhaps you were suckered into thinking you were in for one of the usual London wideboy extravaganzas where violence has no particular consequences and doesn’t really hurt people; and if you were, I hope that you gave it the benefit of the doubt and stayed for a far better cinematic experience than that type of film offers.

As the movie opens, we see Bill Hayward (Charlie Creed-Miles) leaving prison after eight years for drug pushing and violent assault.  As his one-time boss puts it:  “He used to shift a lot of gear, back in the day.  Most of it, up his own nose.”

Bill is as rough around the edges as you would have expected so many years in prison to have left him and he’s not the got the best chat-up lines in the world either (“You on the Game, then?”); but he is genuinely likable.

Despite being still known by his nickname, used pretty much in a sarcastic tone now, Bill is trying to put the past behind him.  He certainly has no intention of going back to prison, that’s for sure.  As you might guess, though, the past is very much with him.  For a start, he has two children, eleven-year-old Jimmy (Sammy Williams) and fifteen-year-old Dean (Will Poulter), who has been taking care of his brother and avoiding conflict with the social services since his mother lit off for Spain with her boyfriend.  She sounds like a real charmer.

With the reappearance of Bill, however, the spotlight is turned on them and Bill has to agree to at least putting on a show of being a half-decent parent instead of flitting off to Scotland and the oil rigs, which had been his intention.  This doesn’t suit Dean at all as he just wants rid of his father, feeling—and who can blame him—that both parents have abandoned him and his brother.  Stuck with a responsibility he doesn’t want, Bill, as much to his own surprise as anyone’s, turns out to be rather good for the boys.

Dean is working illegally but happily on a construction site and beginning a romance with a local girl, Steph, nicely played by Charlotte Spencer. Into the mix is also thrown Roxy (a lovely performance from Liz White), an unapologetic prostitute who ends up living with Bill and the boys in their high-rise flat.

There is a beautiful short scene where they are all sitting around the table eating a Chinese meal.  There is no dialogue on the soundtrack and we are just left with scenes of what could be a happy family; and the thing about this film is that we really want them to be so.

However, Jimmy has found himself working for the same filth that Bill used to run with and we are on track, Western showdown style, for the inevitable final scenes.

These scumbags are determined to bring Bill back down to their own stinking level and you don’t know who is more hateable, the vermin who talk as if they’ve seen too many half-baked London boy movies or the ones who talk as if they were LA gangland ‘brothers.’  Either way, the world would not be the poorer if they and their real-life counterparts were exterminated from the face of the planet.  And please, don’t give me any crap about adverse social conditions.  Scum are scum.

The faces in this movie are wonderful.  Many have the same pinched, half-starved look that speaks of hard times lived.  The acting is faultless. Yes, I suppose it could be called ‘social-realism’, but that shouldn’t put anyone off from seeing it, thinking they’re in for a lecture.  It could be perhaps mistaken for a Ken Loach (or Shane Meadows) film, but this would be the Loach of Raining Stones.  Stratford may look like a grey and washed-out fag-end here—apologies to Stratford dwellers– but there’s a lot of hope as well.

I don’t know how Wild Bill is doing to date, but I do hope that it found its audience.  It deserves to.

Author: Charley Brady

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