Launching on Disney + here in Canada, and Hulu in the U.S., is the FX produced, Danny Boyle directed series Pistol. It’s based on the memoir “Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol” from band founder and guitarist Steve Jones. The long-gestating series finally arrives in all 6 parts on May 31st after winning a lawsuit from former Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten). He tried to block the series from using any of the group’s music after the series’ crew left him out of the creative process. Jones and Pistol’s drummer Paul Cook both serve as producers and creative consultants.
The series begins with the first chance meeting of Jones (Toby Wallace) with fashion mogul Vivienne Westwood (Talulah Riley). They run into future Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde (Sydney Chandler). The fourth wheel in that serendipitous meeting is eventual Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren (Thomas Brodie-Sangster). Funnily enough, Jones tries to nick something from McLaren and Westwood’s fashion boutique SEX. The trio quickly becomes drawn in by Jones’ roughneck attitude and persona. McLaren was looking for another band to fulfill the anti-establishment agenda he attempted to start with the New York Dolls. Soon, McLaren molds the band into the image he had in his head. He releases Wally Nightingale (Dylan Llewellyn). And he installs John Lydon (Anson Boon), who becomes Johnny Rotten, as the new lead singer.
After that change, McLaren opted to keep the other original members in Jones’ band like drummer Paul Cook (Jacob Slater) and bassist Glen Matlock (Christian Lees). The band quickly starts to rise to prominence in part due to McLaren’s stunts and the ferocity of the music they produce. They also become the center of their own movement. People like fashion model and activist Pamela Rooke aka Jordan (Maisie Williams) surround the band like a shield. Other people who are part of that shield are Siouxsie Sioux (Beth Dillon), Soo Catwoman (Iris Law). Lastly, there’s Julian Temple (Lorne MacFadyen) and John’s good friend John Simon Ritchie aka Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge). But as quickly as things escalate, they start to collapse. McLaren forces the departure of Matlock to replace him with the woefully unprepared Vicious. And as tensions continue to boil between Jonny and Malcolm, Vicious discovers heroin due to the influence of his new paramour Nancy Spungen (Emma Appleton).
Pistol is unique in the canon of tales told about the Sex Pistols because it comes from the perspective of Jones and not one of the band’s more manic frontmen Rotten or Vicious. But those worried about pulled punches or a less grimy story can put their fears to rest. Director Danny Boyle infuses Pistol with some of the same energy that permeated Trainspotting 26 years ago. Pistol practically wallows in the filth of its surroundings. Hell, this film makes Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy look downright clean in spots. The series show a brilliant display of set decoration and design that bring the mid to late 70s UK to life. And the wardrobe and hair department absolutely nails the aesthetic. Some outfits look like they have been directly ripped out of Westwood’s closet.
The band is cast well, with Toby Wallace’s Jones and Anson Boon’s Rotten doing most of the heavy lifting acting-wise, especially through the first 4 episodes. Equally good is Lees as Matlock, the original member who played the bass on 90% of the band’s album Never Mind the Bollocks. Even if yes, Vicious replaces him at that point. Speaking of Vicious, he doesn’t even become a lead until the 5th episode of the series. Partridge not only looks like the spitting image of Sid, but he’s more than up to the task of becoming the charismatic bassist as well.
But the real strength of the series comes in the other roles surrounding the band. Sydney Chandler is mesmerizing as Chrissie Hynde, the definition of a breakout performance. Her angst over constantly seeing these men that have half the talent but the “right look” getting opportunities is palpable. The same goes for her feelings that show through during her torrid affair with an infatuated Steve Jones. Even if yes, they both deny those feelings.
Thomas Brodie-Sangster is fast becoming one of the more fascinating actors to watch right now. This follows his portrayal of Benny Watts in The Queens Gambit, by tackling the larger-than-life McLaren here. It’s an accomplished performance that could have very easily become extremely pretentious in someone else’s hands. And it shows his progress as an actor who got his start as the boy in Love Actually. The same could be said for Talulah Riley’s performance as Westwood. She plays Westwood as an extremely headstrong and fiercely stubborn individual determined to shake British culture to its core.
But perhaps the heart of the series is the sometimes stoic, many times prophetic, Jordan played masterfully by Maisie Williams. It may not be the most important role of the series, but you can feel her presence throughout the run of the series. Episode 2 is dedicated to her memory as the real Jordan passed away earlier this year. Williams is fearless in her portrayal, much like the provocateur that Jordan herself was.
The series will be an interesting jumping-in point for those that are trying to explore Sex Pistols lore for the first time as it does tell the story of the rise and fall of the band. But from a distinct point of view and not necessarily the overall view. And this is the opposite of something like the HBO series Winning Time. There, director Adam McKay takes the time to introduce everyone involved to an audience just learning about the L.A. Laker’s dynasty years. Here, Boyle doesn’t slow down to show everything going on.
Instead, Boyle chooses to keep a more frenetic pace that aims to exude the subject it’s exploring. In fact, he doesn’t refer to other punk/scene icons like the aforementioned Siouxsie Sioux by name in the show. The other figures he doesn’t name are Soo Catwoman, Billy Idol, and more. But you may be looking for a different side to a story. One that shows usually tell from the perspective of the band’s more provocative members. Then Pistol definitely warrants a watch.
- Rated: 18A
- Genre: Biopic, Bioseries, Historical, Music
- Release Date: 5/31/2022
- Directed by: Danny Boyle
- Starring: Anson Boon, Beth Dillon, Dylan Llewellyn, Emma Appleton, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Iris Law, Jacob Slater, Lorne MacFadyen, Louis Partridge, Maisie Williams, Sydney Chandler, Talulah Riley, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Toby Wallace
- Produced by: Alice Dawson, Anita Camarata, Craig Pearce, Danny Boyle, Gail Lyon, Hope Hartman, Miranda Jones, Paul Lee, Steve Jones, Tracey Seaward
- Written by: Craig Pearce, Steve Jones
- Studio: Disney, FX, Hulu