Pistol - Poster

45 years on from the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth The Second and the release of The Sex Pistols landmark single God Save The Queen, England was again rapt by the celebration for the same monarch’s Platinum Jubilee and so, Disney and Fox decided this would be a good time to release Pistol, a dramatised version of iconic punk band’s story, as taken from guitarist Steve Jones autobiography Lonely Boy.

I’ll admit that the prospect of Disney telling the story of The Sex Pistols was one that didn’t quite feel right, particularly given that Julien Temple’s documentary The Filth And The Fury already exists and seemed to have already done a great job, but, with Danny Boyle in the director’s chair it felt like there might be promise.

Pistol - Toby Wallace - Steve Jones
Wallace as Jones

Added to which, the fact that John Lydon had been so vocally against it certainly piqued my interest, and ultimately, other than his particular steak of bloody mindedness, I’m really not sure why he’d have had a problem with it.

Being based on his book, Jones is the central figure here and is played Toby Wallace in certainly effective fashion, being something of a lost soul stumbling through this chaotic tale of many forms of excess.

Pistol - Sex Pistols with Glen
The Pistols with Glen

Other key performances come from Anson Boon as Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten), Jacob Slater as Paul Cook, Christian Lees and Glen Matlock, Louis Partridge as Sid Vicious and Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Malcolm McLaren.

While none of them particularly look like the people they are portraying, with slightly too much of a glamorous sheen in their punky look, they do a great job of capturing the essence of the characters as they are seen here.

Pistol - Brodie-Sangster and Talulah Riley - McLaren and Westwood
Brodie-Sangster and Talulah Riley as McLaren and Westwood

Boon and Brodie-Sangster, along with Wallace, particularly stand out and it’s brave enough to make even its most heroic figures less than good people while McLaren is painted as an almost pure antagonist – which has a strong ring of truth – and Boon captures something of Lydon’s mannerisms very impressively.

Added to them we get Maisie Williams as Jordan who is a highlight of the earlier episodes, Talulah Riley as Vivienne Westwood, who hints at a terrific story to be told around her and her relationship with McClaren while finding surprising moments of depth within a relatively limited part, and Sydney Chandler as Chrissie Hynde who becomes something of a counterpoint to Jones in a way that serves to drive the series to far more interesting places than it otherwise might.

Pistol - Anson Boon - Johnny Rotten
Boon as Johnny Rotten

Stylistically the whole series teeters on the edge of being an utter mess with tonal shifts and visual styles crashing together in what becomes fairly spectacular fashion in places.

Boyle wrangles archive footage, dramatic recreations of documented events and narrative extrapolations in a way that captures the energy of the music (eventually) being made by the band – and it does manage to capture something of the vitality of that initial blast of punk rock in Britain and the songs really do still sound great when they begin to appear.

Pistol - Sex Pistols with Sid
The Pistols with Sid

Of course we all know there’s only one way the story of The Sex Pistols will end, and it’s not a particularly happy one, but even in this Boyle and co manage to find a way to end things on a point that doesn’t feel as desperate as maybe real life was, and it’s certainly got the music fan in me wanting to explore The Pretenders more than I have before (and give Never Mind The Bollocks another listen).

Pistol then may veer very close to being a total mess and, I’ll admit, it does clean up some of the rougher corners with a few aspects feeling rather under explored, but in the end is an entertaining series that part of me hopes will appeal to an audience who don’t already know The Sex Pistols and set a new generation off on exploring punk rock in their own way, though I suspect that’s wishful thinking, but either way I found myself thoroughly entertained and certainly now want to read Jones’ book.

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