Pistol Explores the Rise of the Sex Pistols
The story of the Sex Pistols seems like ideal music biopic fodder. The groundbreaking English punk band of the 1970s had a brief run with a clear rise and fall, all of which took place within a period of a few years. The story didn’t really follow conventional biopic lines — mostly because everything had such a nasty edge, up to and including the multiple deaths — that would be likely to lead to the sort of movie with all the things Walk Hard was making fun of.
Now, we have something like that, with a six-part miniseries on Hulu, called Pistol; all six episodes premiered on that streaming service on May 31. Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Craig Pearce, Pistol is based on Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol, the memoir by the band’s guitarist, Steve Jones. Yes, it’s a biopic of the most anarchic punk band ever, released under the auspices of… Disney.
Some fans of the band will appreciate seeing the story told again, and the makers of it did obtain the rights to the band’s music, despite lawsuits from some other members of the band (frontman John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon has described the show as “the most disrespectful shit I’ve ever had to endure.”
That said, the show is a dud. It isn’t especially in line with the spirit of punk rock, and it’s not clear why it had to be a six-hour mini-series rather than, say, a two-hour movie. In addition, the structure is poor, moving very slowly through the band’s rise before sticking about 80 percent of the interesting stuff is crammed into the final hour.
The cast is also unbalanced. None of the actors playing the Pistols (Toby Wallace as Jones, Anson Boon as Johnny Rotten, Louis Partridge as Sid Vicious, Jacob Slater as Paul Cook, Christian Lees as Glen Matlock) make much of an impression. Probably the best performance in the series is from Sydney Chandler- daughter of Kyle! – who plays Chrissie Hynde, the future Pretenders frontwoman who hung around the band in its early days.
Malcolm McLaren (played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Jojen Reed from Game of Thrones), looks like a teenage boy for some reason. Speaking of Westeros, the show also boasts Masie Williams (Arya Stark), as the real-life 1960s fashionista known as Jordan (who, in real life, passed away last month.)
Alas, Pistol has a similar problem with The Offer, the Al Ruddy-based telling of the making of The Godfather, currently showing on Paramount+: We’re getting the point of view of probably the least-interesting figure involved in the events.
While last year’s Cruella, for some reason, was set against this milieu, even including a character based on Malcolm McLaren, the Pistols have been historically underexamined by Hollywood.
Aside from the documentaries The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle and The Filth and the Fury — both directed by Julien Temple — the most famous movie about the Sex Pistols is Sid and Nancy, which was less about the band than the titular couple’s relationship, and didn’t use any of their music. The show half-heartedly reenacts part of that in the last two episodes, although it won’t make anyone forget Alex Cox’s 1986 film.
It’s also pretty strange how much of other artists’ music is featured in a show about a particular band, including a long scene set to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” It all feels like padding. And so much of David Bowie’s music is featured in the first episode that I couldn’t help but wonder if Boyle would rather be making a Bowie biopic.
Sure, you’ll get to hear the band’s music, and also that of many other bands. But Pistol is mostly a failed attempt at capturing the Sex Pistols’ mythos.