Pistols Review – Danny Boyle’s goofy Sex Pistols show is like punk: the Panto!

JThe Sex Pistols lasted three years, and it’s fair to say that a lot happened to them in that brief, blinding flash of late 1970s chaos. feeling too fast and too loose. Danny Boyle directs this frantic but baggy six-part dramatization of Sex Pistols history, largely told through the eyes of guitarist Steve Jones. It is adapted by Baz Luhrmann favorite Craig Pearce from Jones’ memoir Lonely Boy, which explains Jones’ heavyweight perspective. The problem with that is that it gives the story a wonky, skewed focus and a frustrating sense of delayed gratification.

The first episode is about Jonesy (Toby Wallace), as Jones is known on the show, and his terrible and traumatic childhood and life as a young thief. “Thugs like you turn me on,” purrs predatory Malcolm McLaren (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), when Jonesy is caught trying to steal from his and Vivienne Westwood’s shop, Sex. Westwood’s character came out to explain things, while McLaren’s catchphrases. He speaks in statements such as “You are a product of state oppression”, urging the band to “rip each other apart like the seditionary sewer rats that you are”. When Johnny Rotten finally appears and spends an episode or two trying to write lyrics, he talks in bits and pieces about what will become lines of their handful of songs. It’s Pistols: the panto.

It takes an episode to introduce Rotten, and when he does show up, it’s with panache. The camera climbs the stairs to his studio, hovers at his feet and eventually rises to meet this John Lydon glance. Anson Boon plays it with conviction, a snotty cross between the Artful Dodger, the Child Catcher and an animated rodent. Lydon has been against Pistol since its inception, with his former bandmates suing him claiming they had the right to use the band’s music. They won. When the trailer was released, Lydon called it “middle class fantasy”. “Disney stole the past and created a fairy tale, which bears little resemblance to the truth,” he said.

For a series focused on the power of image, being rejected by Lydon has to be the ultimate publicity stunt. But young Rotten isn’t doing too badly: he’s just a cartoon character. Another episode decides to hold on to the inspiration of the Bodies song, as a fan stalks Rotten with a bag full of horrible secrets. It’s a horribly compelling story, but given that there are only six episodes to depict the entire rise and burnout of the Pistols, it’s odd to give it so much space. Likewise, there’s plenty of time given to a romance between Chrissie Hynde (a very good Sydney Chandler) and Jonesy, and Hynde’s frustrations with boys who are lucky enough to be rock stars when she has to do facing “big smoking heaps”. sexism”. Jonesy, meanwhile, is battling his own demons. “I live a lot of birds and act tough,” he says, after bottling a first stint as leader. “But when I’m up there, I have nowhere to hide.”

We ask too much… Pistol.
Asking too much of us… Toby Wallace as Steve Jones and Sydney Chandler as Chrissie Hynde in Pistol. Photo: Disney+/Rebecca Brenneman/FX

It’s a big demand from the audience, to reject sentimentality and nihilism in equal measure, and expect it to go well. After tracing the band’s early days, the show heads into the inevitable implosion: Bill Grundy, the United States, drugs, Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge) joining the group and igniting tragically. I thought of Lydon talking about his friend Sid in Julien Temple’s 2000 documentary The Filth and the Fury. “He just died, damn it,” Lydon said to Temple, his voice breaking with emotion. “They just turned it into money making… Poor bastard.”

The gun fell flat for me, but there are two things that might be worth it. The actors had to learn how to play their instruments, and the live performance scenes provide a desperately needed dose of energy. It sounds great and hints at how exciting it must have been to be in the room. A scene from the band’s concert at Chelmsford Prison in 1976 is genuinely tense, then oddly joyous.

The other is Maisie Williams as the late Jordan, who gets the show’s best scene, when she struts around her seaside hometown dressed only in clear PVC, much to the horror of commuters and passers-by. stuffy. “The provocation really makes you hungry,” she drawls. His character is what could have been. It shows what punk has done, rather than saying it. There’s a lot of ambition in Pistol, a lot of provocation, but it doesn’t spark.

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