It didn’t matter what the Sex Pistols sounded like. It only mattered what they looked like.
pistol, a six-part Disney Plus series about the wild rise and riotous fall of Britain’s most notorious and unruly punk rock band, is littered with versions of the same deceptively boastful claim. “We’re not into music,” guitarist Steve Jones wrote in his 2016 memoir lonely boy gives shape to the miniseries, he says after one of the band’s early performances. “We are in chaos.”
This sentiment is repeated so many times by so many—by Sid Vicious, by Johnny Rotten, by Malcolm McLaren, the band’s Machiavellian pipsqueak—that it eventually turns out to be the band’s sloppy manifesto. For better or worse, it may also have been the guiding theme for Danny Boyle’s ambitious, and at times even exuberant, take on a story that had been told for screen a number of times before, particularly in the dark cult hit Sid & Nancy.
In this version, working-class Steve played with a boisterous mix of panache and dejection by Toby Wallace (baby teeth), wants to start the Sex Pistols in London in the 1970s. He’s not only the bandmate who needs it most – his stepfather despises him, he’s practically illiterate – but the one with the audacity to steal the needed gear from the Odeon.
Still, it’s easy to imagine the group would never complete garage rehearsals were it not for fashion designer Vivienne Westwood (Talulah Riley), who shines on Steve even as he tries to rob her store. Vivienne’s opportunistic friend Malcolm sees in Steve a seedy attraction befitting the desperation of Britain’s austerity. “Brawlers like you excite me,” declares Malcolm, played with smooth charm undercut by a sort of scruffy, languid diction of Thomas Brodie-Sangster (The Queen’s Gambit).
It is never clear how seriously Malcolm takes his anti-establishment and anti-fascist policies; What’s safer is that he sees an opportunity to commodify the moment. He brings in Johnny Rotten (Anson Boon), who has never sung before, to front the band and later Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge, Enola Holmes), who has never played bass, to replace the bass player – the only guy in the band who can play his instrument meaningfully.
Boyle never lands the plane over questions about the Sex Pistol’s authenticity, which had its roots in the working-class band members but found expression in a brutal sound and anarchistic image overseen by Malcolm. In all likelihood, the truth lies in the somewhat unsatisfactory gray area that Boyle invokes. The Pistols created culture while responding to it. Malcolm was drawn to them because they had nothing left to live for – a state of mind that changed the moment he agreed to support them.
The most glaring problem is that the series never achieves the rollicking kinetics we associate with the Sex Pistols or punk rock, or even the fast-paced extravagance we’ve come to expect from other Danny Boyle productions such as train spotting or Slumdog Millionaire. The performance scenes come closest to that. Boon captures the frontman’s menacing intensity, though Partridge doesn’t quite match Gary Oldman’s ferocity Sid & Nancyhis sid is more youthful, more vulnerable.
The Sex Pistols have been hailed as trailblazers and condemned as hotshots – the BBC famously wouldn’t air their single ‘God Save the Queen’ even after it topped the charts – but they’re also clearly kids here. Sydney Chandler (don’t worry darling) is particularly impressive as Pre-Pretender’s Chrissie Hynde, who refuses to go home to Ohio until she’s a star. For most of the series, the Sex Pistols feel more like runaways than rock stars.
The action is punctuated with grainy archival footage (a waving queen, scenes of striking workers, and other scenes of police violence) that efficiently portray the series’ milieu. But the show’s portrayal of punk rock itself — filtered through the lens of Malcolm’s machinations and even sometimes the vanity of the kids in the band — feels more like an image than a ghost, more of an escape than a way of life. pistolunlike the music that inspired it, it never grabs you by the throat.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/pistol-danny-boyle-review-b2088761.html Pistol Review: Danny Boyle’s series never quite reaches the rollicking cinematics we associate with the Sex Pistols