It’s surprising that the FX series “Pistol,” which tells the story of the infamous band the Sex Pistols, ends with a joyful scene, a recreation of the band’s Christmas Day 1977 benefit performance for firefighters’ children. on strike in Huddersfield. It’s a dizzying show that shows the group in good humor and good unity.
The scene sheds light on what could have been had the group not self-destructed. Despite the hype, there was a lot of good in the Sex Pistols. Things could have gone better. In this way, the group and the series mirror each other.
Directed by Danny Boyle, “Pistol” is “inspired” by the memoirs of Pistols guitarist Steve Jones (Toby Wallace), now a successful podcaster, and traces the band from its formation to its implosion. It all begins in the London boutique of provocateur Malcolm McLaren (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and his partner, the politically radical fashion designer Vivienne Westwood (Talulah Riley). The Sex Shop defined and dressed the punk movement in England in 1977 and was a gathering place for a community of characters who would populate the scene, such as Billy Idol, Adam Ant and Chrissie Hynde.
“Pistol” emphasizes that the group was not just a music group, but the result of the efforts of an entire community of people with various roles to play in conceptualizing and realizing what the Sex Pistols would become. In the center were McLaren and Westwood, but they were joined by the woman called “the first Sex Pistol”, Jordan (Maisie Williams) who shaped and personified the band’s visual image, as well as Helen Wellington-Lloyd aka Helen of Troy (Francesca Mills), a South African graphic designer with dwarfism who created the iconic record covers, t-shirts, and more that defined public and historical perception.
While the band members themselves are the focus of the series, Anson Boon as Johnny Rotten is particularly good at portraying the fiercely intelligent, angry, and sour-tongued young man struggling with his ego and trying to to use the band as a platform to speak for the voiceless – it’s based on the memoir of guitarist Steve Jones and so its story tends to dominate, unfortunately, as it discounts the stories of Rotten and bassist Sid Vicious ( Louis Partridge).
This is a particular prejudice when it comes to Vicious. Partridge plays it with an appropriate mix of sweetness, stubbornness and confused brutality, but Boyle chooses to stick with only the well-known tale of the heroin train wreckage that was so well portrayed in the movie “Sid And Nancy”. By lazily choosing to ignore his past life, Boyle ignores the real person and misses an opportunity to add context and sympathy to his eventual fate. This is a major misstep.
This kind of obstructive blunder is most apparent in singer Hynde’s (Sydney Chandler) serial portrayal. In real life, Hynde worked in the Sex Shop for a few months, had a very brief fling with guitarist Jones, an unsuccessful musical association with McLaren, and was only involved with the Sex Pistols on the sidelines. Unfortunately, the series chooses to expand her role in the story to a largely fictional one, misrepresenting her relationship with Jones as long-term, inserting musical guardianship and partnership with him, and suggesting that she was seeking a place within Sex Pistols. The most absurd moment comes when Hynde is described as concocting her lyrics for her debut hit “Kid” while singing a lullaby to Sid Vicious’ heroin addict girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Emma Appleton) in another incident which, though described, never happened.
Part of Boyle’s stated intention was to give more credence to women in the punk movement who were sidelined, but the preoccupation with creating fiction around Hynde causes the series to marginalize them again. Only Westwood comes out with proper credit given to him, but without much context. Wellington-Lloyd gets screen time, but very little information or clarity about his contributions. Despite the hype of Williams’ participation and the lip service to Jordan’s prominence, in great disservice Jordan is downplayed to a painful degree.
Goth punk legend Siouxsie Sioux (Beth Dillon) is depicted as part of the sex shop crowd, but only as a bottom member, though she, along with her bands the Banshees and the Creatures, would gain some traction. significance and would continue the dark and experimental aspects of late ’70s punk much more faithfully than Hynde would. Pushing Hynde to center stage seems more like a ploy to hook American audiences, but every moment spent fabricating things about her is a moment taken away from the women who actually deserve the credit.
Whether you love them or hate them, or simply indifferent to them, the Sex Pistols marked a turning point in the style, culture and business of modern music, and their existence has thrust us into a world of new sounds and new ideas. There are moments in Boyle’s series that capture the danger and chaos of the story, especially in the final episode, but he mostly seems to want to lock it into something more orderly and less organic.
It’s a shame, because the real story of the band is one of communities, mobs and social associations that came together and created something that demanded attention in the form of a band. It was a howl born of a shapeless, reckless horde, merging with brilliance before turning into a dark dust that settled everywhere, on all of us. Boyle effectively portrayed the mess in “Trainspotting,” but 25 years later he seems to have forgotten his own wisdom.