The Pistol miniseries is based on the memoir Lonely Boy: The Life of a Sex Pistol by guitarist Steve Jones. It’s a biographical drama brought to the screen by director Danny Boyle and writer Craig Pearce telling the story of the band’s rise to prominence through anarchy and revolutionary ideas to social conformity. The narrative is set in London in the mid 70s, at the start of punk sub-culture; Vivienne Westwood (Talulah Riley) and Malcolm McLaren’s (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) Kings Road boutique, SEX, soon becomes the hangout for the cool kids amid this shift in youth culture.
British actor Toby Wallace steps effortlessly into the role of illiterate guitarist Steve Jones. His uneasy rise to fame is littered with threads of childhood abuse and neglect, and is sensitively portrayed by Wallace as the story plays out through Jones’s eyes. It opens with Jones caught shoplifting from McLaren and Westwood’s shop and, instead of berating him, McLaren (Brodie-Sangster) sees something in him and offers to manage his bit-part band. Brodie-Sangster puts in a peak performance as the eccentric and complex entrepreneur, re-shuffling the original band members and offering them a rehearsal space before majestically then telling his final line-up, “We are all one big unhappy family.”
Coming into the story later on is wide-eyed Anson Boon playing the part of Jonny Rotten. All jagged bones and heroin-chic, he easily epitomises the anarchical stance the Sex Pistols threw out there. There’s also a beautiful side-story from Sydney Chandler, as Chrissie Hynde, who forms a romance with Jones. In a way Boyle has made it her story too, as we quietly watch her make her own tentative journey in the male-dominated music industry.
There’s not much screen time given to the destructive relationship of Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge) and Nancy Spungen (Emma Appleton) – perhaps because of a previous biographical film that had it covered – but what we do see is unsettling and raw. Partridge drops weight through the series and emerges covered in lesions and bruises that add an abrasive edge to the slick cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle.
The story will probably appeal to a younger generation, offering insight into the musical revolution, told by a fresh-faced, appealing cast that includes a standout performance from Maisie Williams (who channels punk glamour as Jordan) and a blink-and-you-might-miss-it cameo from Iris Law. With sensitive moments sitting alongside the deeper progression of this anti-establishment band, Boyle has created a series that delivers all the information one needs on the Sex Pistols in a rather glossy and digestible package.
Pistol is released on Disney+ on 31st May 2022.
Watch the trailer for Pistol here: