Cast: Toby Wallace, Anson Boon, Louis Partridge, Christian Lees, Sydney Chandler, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Tallulah Riley
Directed by Danny Boyle
Based on the novel by Steve Jones
I’m sure if you asked any of the members of the Sex Pistols back in 1977 what they thought of Disney, there’d most likely follow a string of profanities too lurid to be repeated amongst the pages of such an innocent blog as this. The punk band which formed amongst a culture of truly unique characters, with genuine belief in what they stood for, and the energy to fight what they stood against, the Pistols made their mark on British culture in a way many would compare to that of a teabag left too long upon a newspaper. But in truth their revolutionary attitudes, style and most importantly, music, has influenced generations to follow. Of course, no such historical event can take place without a fictionalised account being retold within the annuls of film or tv history, meaning the story of a truly radical group has been left in the entirely opposingly sanitary hands of conglomerate Disney, as well as revered director Danny Boyle, who may still find traces of dirt beneath his fingernails from the grit of his early films.
There’s a lot to tell in a story such as this. Guitarist Steve Jones’ maintains the basis of the plot this time round, but when placed beside previous films about the era – Julien Temples’ enigmatic ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle’, or the desolation of Alex Coxs’ ‘Sid and Nancy’ – the truth can become more of a forgotten commodity. Despite this, the six fourty-five minute episodes manage to cover most of the key events – John Lydon’s infamous jukebox audition in Viv Westwoods’ ‘SEX’ shop, the truly unforgettable Bill Grundy interview, as well as later acts of anarchic wisdom, such as the House of Commons-adjacent boat trip performance by the band. It’s such a rich story, filled with history in the forms of people, clothing, attitudes and sound, that these key elements of the story can all be utilised to draw in the viewer, allowing them to understand in greater detail why such a rebellion in the late 1970’s came into being.
As an actual TV series, ‘Pistol’ does take an episode or two to find its feet. The opening feels as if it caters far too much to an audience overly-familiar with the shortcomings of social media. Over-dramatised police chases and unrelated party sequences are delivered through an unrelenting average shot length of probably around one second. Each beat overloads the audience more and more, whilst romanticising what would have been a desolate, post-war London landscape, to be a time of excitement and constant rebellion. However, as the band begins to take their place, and the settings establish themselves more clearly, the show really falls into a groove which carries through until the final curtain. John Lydon was the first to say that the creators hadn’t done it my way, but overall the six episodes deliver a story which informs those unfamiliar with the band on what they really represented, as well as delivering an entertaining and entrancing reimagining of this long since passed era to Pistols fans worldwide.
Particular standouts lie in the performances of Johnny Rotten imitator Anson Boon, as well as ever-punchable Thomas Brodie-Sangster reincarnating the sleaze of band manager Malcolm McLaren. The sound production is also a highlight, with each performance given by the band feeling as powerful as first recordings, matching the energy of later-spliced in original performances from shows of the time. Such a story also couldn’t get away without being commented on unless the fashion was mentioned. Vivianne Westwood’s iconic approach to clothing is perhaps what ties the entire late-seventies punk movement together. No scene through the series is complete without a band member or two adorning a purposefully provocative or obscene shirt. Jackets and trousers that your parents would either be horrified by, or become the root of their envy saunter through London streets, carrying within them the grand cast of characters who are set to make history.
The Sex Pistols are no British secret. Their lives and musical story is known amongst a great number of people, and most of those who have at least a vaguely decent interest in the band will probably look upon a Disney+ limited series telling their tale as only greater evidence that nothing good can last. However, although this is most likely true, there’s something to be appreciated about the shows’ ability to revive this past era, taking us back through the lives of Steve Jones, John Lydon, Paul Cook, Glen Matlock and Sid Vicious one more time.