After eight years inside jail, Wild Bill (Charlie Creed-Miles) has been released and not knowing quite what to do with himself, returns home to the London estate he left all that while ago. When he was convicted, his wife was bringing up his two young boys, so he has to assume they are still back there at the flat though they have not been in contact since, but on ringing the bell and banging on the door he doesn't get a reply, and retires to the pub to ponder his next move. However, there was someone there: his two sons Dean (Will Poulter) and Jimmy (Sammy Williams), living alone...
That's because their mother upped and left them nine months ago, abandoning fifteen-year old Dean to look after his younger brother on his own. For money he has managed to get a job on a building site, but dreads the thought of social services sniffing around, which is who he thought was at the door when his dad was actually there. However, after his old ne'erdowell cohorts get him drunk to the point of unconsciousness in the pub, they reintroduce Bill to his offspring, and so far this is looking very much like the descendant of the British kitch sink tradition by way of its updaters, Mike Leigh and Shane Meadows.
And it was in that style, not that its debuting director Dexter Fletcher was slavishly copying those two filmmakers, but for a while you might have been wondering why you weren't watching one of their movies when their reputations were very high in that regard. One reason was that while Fletcher could have lapsed into geezer cinema, something he was no stranger to as an actor, he opted to keep the tone realistic and surprisingly serious-minded throughout: there were scenes here which came across as not unlike extended public information films advising its audience through drama how to avoid getting into the same trouble that Wild Bill and his fellow characters did.
There were occasional moves towards humour, but only intermittently, as Fletcher and his team evidently wanted to appeal to the head as well as the emotions, and that may have meant a few jokes but in the main we had to think over the protagonist's dilemmas and wonder how someone at the lowest rung of society can possibly redeem himself. Interestingly, where many films showing people getting out of prison would have them falling back into criminality, often with enthusiasm, Bill has actually learned from the experience and wishes to stay as far away from the law as possible, not to mention the lawless, except those gangsters he used to hang around with, and indeed went to jail for, are keen to draw him back into their fold.
In a role written especially for him, Creed-Miles could have made this a story of two halves with an abrupt change halfway through, but skillfully he had us believing Bill has seen the error of his ways and after considering staying the deadbeat he always has been, opts to do something positive with his life. First he wants to go and work on an oil rig, but then something fatherly stirs in his mind and he starts to think he should really be looking after his kids, one problem with that being Dean doesn't want him around, understandably aggrieved at his abandonment. Yet circumstances both prove Bill is willing to be responsible while simultaneously painting him into a moral corner as the gangsters recruit Jimmy to run drugs for them, and warn Bill he has to leave since the police are watching him so closely. Fletcher gathered up an impressive selection of guest stars to bring this to life, but the lesser known faces were just as effective, creating an ensemble if not a plot resolution that everyone would be satisfied with: more realism. Most of the actresses sport the same hairstyle, however. Music by Christian Henson.