Comedy, romance and urban grit

Cecile de France and  Thomas Doret in The Kid With A Bike, directed by  Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Cecile de France and Thomas Doret in The Kid With A Bike, directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

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THERE are two films this week about errant and absent parents.

The first is Wild Bill (Cert 15) which is both an East End crime thriller and also a story about family relationships and loyalty.

Cecile de France and  Thomas Doret in The Kid With A Bike, directed by  Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Cecile de France and Thomas Doret in The Kid With A Bike, directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Dexter Fletcher’s debut film begins with Bill Hayward (Charlie Creed-Miles) coming out of prison on parole after eight years.

Returning to his East London home, he finds his 15- and 11-year-old sons, Dean (Will Poulter) and Jimmy (Sammy Williams) have been abandoned by their mother and left to fend for themselves.

Dean has been illegally working to support himself and his brother and resents the presence of the father he barely knows.

But when social services arrive and threaten to put the siblings into care, he reluctantly concludes that Bill must stay.

As Bill comically tries to become a responsible parent for the first time in his life, things begin falling apart.

The younger son gets into trouble with local drug dealers and the only way to fix the situation could violate his parole and send him back to jail.

With its title alluding to Westerns, it’s a case of a man’s gotta do…

It may sound like a familiar scenario but Wild Bill is a surprisingly well-made film with good performances, especially from Creed-Miles and Poulter, believable characters, smart dialogue and a nice sense of place.

Fletcher, who called in some favours from acting mates for cameo roles including Andy Serkis as the menacing king gangster, Jason Flemyng as a social worker and Liz White as a tart with a heart, manages to balance the elements of comedy and romance without diluting the urban grit.

Belgian fraternal film-makers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are known for bleak social dramas. The Kid With a Bike (Cert 12A) is said to be more upbeat than most, if for nothing more than being filmed in sunshine for once. It’s still a heart-rending story.

The kid is 11-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) who has been dumped in a children’s home by his feckless father but refuses to believe he has been abandoned, even when he returns to their old apartment and finds no trace of him.

He also feels bereft without his bike which he can’t believe his father sold.

Running away from social workers in a blind fury, he grabs hold of a stranger and refuses to let go. This is hairdresser Samantha (Cécile de France) and the encounter arouses a compassion in her to try and do something for the angry and lonely boy. She buys back the bike for him and persuades the authorities to let Cyril stay with her at weekends.

But the boy doesn’t recognise his good fortune and that Samantha can provide a love he desperately needs to calm his rage and succumbs to the attention he receives from a dangerous local petty criminal.

The Kid With a Bike is almost unbearably tense at times in showing the vulnerability of children and how susceptible they are to the wrong influences.

Unlike, say, Ken Loach, the Dardennes don’t seem that bothered by the details of social realism which may nag some viewers, such as why Samantha is moved to such kindness and patience or indeed how she is allowed to take charge of a child she is not connected to. They would say that’s not the point.