Hyper-sexual, unrehearsed, and lasting a mere three years, the Sex Pistols created an anarchistic legacy that director Danny Boyle crammed into a skewed six-part violently poignant limited series. The Sex Pistols fashioned the seventies music industry with their revolutionary ways of mayhem; however, the series tends to shy away from fully showcasing the unruliness of the late band.
Guitarist, Steve Jones (Toby Wallace) claimed, ‘we’re not into music. We are into chaos’, however, the series focused more on their unprepared artistry. That quote was the manifesto of the band, everything they strived to achieve in their revolutionary Punk Movement, and there is serious debate as to whether the Disney+ series lived up to the truly representing the bands era.
Told by, mostly, Jonesy, as Jones’ is known throughout the series, has the focal role in the series due to the series being influenced by Jones’ own autobiography Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol.
Jonesy garners the attention of flamboyant Malcolm McLaren (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) whilst attempting to steal from McLaren’s partner at the time, Vivienne Westwood’s (Talulah Riley) infamous store Sex. This event prompts the start of the formation of the Sex Pistols. This scene is a defining scene for Malcolm as it shows off his meticulous and cunning performance as the band’s slick, opportunist manager.
Malcolm soon brings in the arrogant yet eloquent Johnny Rotten (Anson Boon) to replace Jonesy as the frontman, who later takes on Wally Nightingale’s (played by Derry Girl’s Dylan Llewellyn) position as the guitarist, as Malcolm claims that no one with a name like Wally can be in a punk band. Getting his nickname from the state of his teeth, Johnny Rotten is brought into the band with no prior musical experience and a subpar voice. Yet, his outlook, visuals, and magnetism are what made him into the untamed punk rocker that we all came to love or hate.
Later on, Malcolm makes the other executive decision to bring Sid Vicious into the band to replace Beatle-loving, proper Glen Matlock who often butted heads with Johnny Rotten. It was a shame that Wally and Glen were bumped from the band because they were the only ones who held some sort of musical insight and talent in their performances. But, nevertheless, that was not what the Sex Pistols stood for. So, highly strung, punk Sid Vicious took over his spot with, again, no musical ability whatsoever.
Something that really stood out in the series was the women associated with the punk band and the inclusiveness of the series. The Punk Rock scene was for everyone and started off in the Drag or Fashion scene. The series was really clever at executing the diverseness of the Punk Movement, and their involvement in the rise of the band’s audience, featuring actresses and actors such as Francesca Mills and John McCrea. The women in the series featured the courageous and artistic Vivienne Westwood, The Pretenders singer and love interest of Jonesy Chrissie Hynde (Sydney Chandler), the provocative Jordan (Maisie Williams) and the distressed damsel Nancy Spungen. These gifted women proved to be more than just a side-line and showcased how vital they were to not only the band but the Punk Movement itself.
The young men playing the band members were truly nothing short of exceptional and in my opinion saved the show. Wallace as Jonesy was the best thing about the show in my opinion, how he conveyed Jonesy’s dream of having a place in this world was tasteful. Jonesy did have the most depth and character, and that was probably down to the show being based on Jones’s autobiography. This is and will most definitely be a career-defining moment for Wallace. Newcomer Anson Boon carefully delivered a frontman worthy performance. It was animalistic yet heartfelt, and he showed depth to Johnny Rotten. His performance was extremely hard-hitting, yet whimsically elegant. Definitely a great performance to kickstart a career. There was one performance that I expected more from, and I think that is down to the creators, not the actor. This performance would be Sid Vicious played by Louis Partridge. It was less Sid Vicious and more Sid Vivacious. A common problem with this series was the water down storylines. Sid Vicious was a victim of this problem and they writers should have done more with the reincarnation of Punk. However, Partridge was stellar with his acting skills, and definitely will be a cult classic portrayal of Sid Vicious.
Despite the band having a short lifespan in the industry, I expected Pistol to have a few more episodes. I do not think that five hours is enough to detail the legacy of Punk, and the delegation of storylines per episode was a bit troubling. In the last episode they crammed in their full disastrous American tour, the tragic demise of Sid and Nancy and the band’s separation. Yet, they dedicate one full episode to ‘Bodies’ the candidly written, gut-wrenching song about what was truly in Pauline’s bag. The incident must have been traumatic for the wounded boys. Condensing that storyline could have also created more screen time for Paul Cook, the drummer, (Jacob Slater) who deserved more in the later episodes.
There were incidents that were softly touched upon in the series, like Sid and Nancy’s storyline. They deserved more than an episode devoted to them. Sid and Nancy’s life would have given the series more of an edge, an edge it was lacking at some points admittedly. Nancy has been regarded as the Sex Pistols’ very own Yoko Ono in some respects. Matlock will love that! They just missed out on a punk worthy storyline, but then again, maybe the creators did not want to make a new version of the 1986 cult classic, ‘Sid and Nancy’.
Johnny Lydon, the ex-frontman of the Sex Pistols, stated that ‘“Disney have stolen the past and created a fairytale, which bears little resemblance to the truth,” and in some regards he is correct. The series was lacking a certain something to truly showcase the edginess of the band that we all grew up listening to and following. They were Punk, they created that movement, and the show barely alludes to it with its wonky storylines. If this show was about a fictional band called the Sex Pistols then it would be stellar, however, when you know about the Sex Pistols and what they were like, the show proves to be a little bit lacklustre in storytelling. Yet, the performances of the young men were imaginative, impulsive and award worthy. The actors brought a new lease of life to the band ranging from their difficult start to their night in Huddersfield when they truly felt like a family, something most of them craved.
Perfect for this day and age, Boyle brought out a sanitised version of the Sex Pistols with the new biopic. They were a product of state oppression, and, in the words of Lyndon, the series was more of a ‘middle-class fantasy’.
Series can be watched on Disney+
Written by Niamh McCabe