The first hurdle that anyone making a show about the punk rock scene needs to get over is complaints that what they’ve made isn’t ‘punk’ enough. In reality this is an impossible hurdle to get over because by its nature punk is an anti-establishment force, and therefore it’s hard to see how any television show or film drama, however it is filmed, is going to feel raw enough to satisfy. Imagine then the displeasure if Disney, the home of Elsa the singing princess and Mickey Mouse are behind a show about the Sex Pistols… well, you can imagine that a lot of people have made up their mind before the trailer has even been released.
For the purposes of this Pistol review, I have tried to move beyond this immediate ‘mismatch’ that some might see, and look at the drama for what it is and intended to be, a piece of entertainment on the television. And on that level, this is a show that will probably have you pleasantly surprised.
Directed by one of the great British director’s of the modern age, Danny Boyle – yes he behind Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and the masterminding of the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony to name but a few – this is a show that takes a slightly different angle into a well trodden musical path.
The Sex Pistols are one of the most famous and influential bands in British history, having exploded onto the scene in the 1970s and not just created iconic music, but fuelled a counter culture revolution that swept through a disaffected youth in Britain and inspired people across the globe. For this reason there have been many different film and television representations of this story told in the past, but less so focussing on the story from the perspective of guitarist Steve Jones.
This show is an adaptation of the autobiography Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol and focuses on the childhood and foundations of the band from the perspective of Jones, a young man who had a tough upbringing and quite quickly began to run into trouble with the law as he reached his teenage years. Disaffected by what felt like a 1970s Britain that offered nothing to people like him, he saw music as a way of expressing himself and talking to others, and formed a band – one that would eventually go onto become The Sex Pistols.
Jones meets important and influential people in his life and that of the band along the way. Early on we see his relationship develop with a young designer Vivienne Westwood, who along with her partner Malcolm McClaren, are running a boutique called SEX in London. Westwood’s role in helping the band discover an image beyond the music, and of course McLaren’s famous managerial stint at the helm of the band are legendary in music circles and are explored from their earliest days in the show.
Pistol is driven forward by three things as a TV show;
Firstly, it is inspired by a story around one of the most iconic bands in the world. Whether it’s sugar coated or sanitised, you can’t help but feel an energy that comes from the subject matter which gets inside you as a viewer.
Secondly, it has a really excellent cast bringing alive the characters on screen – each and everyone of them a delight to watch. From Toby Wallace’s tortured soul as Steve Jones to Tallulah Riley’s nuanced turn as Vivienne Westwood and Thomas Brodie-Sangster as the effervescent Malcolm McLaren, there is no shortage of start quality on screen.
Thirdly, Danny Boyle has brought this show to screen with real hallmark style and quality. It’s all shot in 4:3 to give a TV in the seventies feel to it and is spliced together with real footage and quick cuts that will make you feel energised.
Combine these three elements and you have a show that will have you hooked if you are prepared to accept it’s not a documentary. No, I’m sure it’s not as it was exactly – but at the end of the day, is that what a drama is meant to do?
If you’re looking for a TV show that tells a ripping story and features familiar names and music, you could do a lot worse than tuning into Pistol.
Pistol is available to watch on Disney+ in the UK and Hulu in the US