The Sex Pistols lasted three years, and it is fair to say that much happened to them in that brief, blinding flash of the chaos of the late 1970s. Strange, then, that Pistol (Disney +) ends up feeling too fast and too loose. Danny Boyle directs this furious but baggy six-part dramatization of the Sex Pistols story, mostly told through the eyes of guitarist Steve Jones. It is adapted by Baz Luhrmann’s favorite Craig Pearce, from Jones’ memoir, Lonely Boy, which explains the Jones heavyweight perspective. The problem with this is that it gives the story a blurry, distorted focus and a frustrating sense of late satisfaction.
The first episode is about Jonesy (Toby Wallace), as Jones is known in the series, and his terrible, traumatic childhood and life as a young thief. “Ruffians like you excite me,” purrs predator Malcolm McLaren (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) when Jonesy is caught trying to steal from his and Vivienne Westwood’s shop, Sex. Westwood’s character is brought out to explain things, while McLaren slogans. He speaks in statements such as “You are a product of state repression”, urging the group to “tear at each other like the seditious cloacrators that you are”. When Johnny Rotten finally shows up 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. There are pistols: the pant.
It takes an episode to introduce Rotten, and when he shows up, it’s in full bloom. The camera chases him up the stairs to his bed, hovers at his feet and then whips to meet that. John Lidon stare. Anson Boon poses as him with conviction, a mosaic cross between the Shrewd Dodger, the Child Catcher and a lively rodent. Lydon has been against Pistol since its inception, with his old bandmates taking him to court to argue that they were allowed to use the band’s music in it. They won. When the trailer came out, Lydon called it a “middle-class fantasy.” “Disney has stolen the past and created a story that bears little resemblance to the truth,” he said.
For a series that is about the power of an image, being rejected by Lydon must be the ultimate commercial coup. But young Rotten doesn’t go wrong: it’s just that he’s a cartoonist. Another episode decides to hang around the inspiration for the song Bodies, as a fan chases Rotten with a bag full of terrible secrets. It’s a terribly fascinating story, but considering there are only six episodes to arrange the totality of the birth and exhaustion of the Pistols, it’s strange to give it so much space. Similarly, there is plenty of time given to a romance between Chrissie Hynde (a very good Sydney Chandler) and Jonesy, and Hynde’s frustrations at the boys who get the chance to be rock stars while she has to fight with “big steaming crowds”. of sexism ”. Jonesy, meanwhile, fights his own demons. “I screw up a lot of birds and I act hard,” he says, after bottling up an early shift as a frontman. “But when I’m up there, I have nowhere to hide.”
It’s a big request from the audience, to throw out equal parts sentimentality and nihilism, and expect it to sit smoothly. After winding around the band’s early days, the show’s career towards the inevitable implosion: Bill Grundy, USA, drugs, Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge) joining the group and blazing 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,” Lidon tells Temple, his voice collapsing with emotion. “They just turned it into making money … Poor lawn.”
A pistol fell for me, but there are two things that could make it worth a shot. The actors had to learn how to play their instruments, and the live show scenes give an urgently needed shot of energy. It sounds great, and suggests how exciting it must have been in the room. A scene from the group’s gig at Chelmsford Prison in 1976 is really tense, then strangely joyful.
The other is Maisie Williams as the late Jordan, who gets the best scene in the series as she paves the way through her seaside hometown wearing nothing but clear PVC, to the horror of the suffocating commuters and passersby. “Provocation is very hungry,” she said. Her character is what could have been. She shows what a punk did, rather than telling it. There’s a lot of ambition in Pistol, a lot of provocation, but it doesn’t ignite.