'Pistol' review: Danny Boyle's series never achieves the unabashed cynicism we associate with the Sex Pistols

It didn’t matter what the Sex Pistols sounded like. It only mattered how they looked.

Gun, a six-episode Disney Plus series about the wild rise and incendiary fall of Britain’s most notorious and rebellious punk rock band, is littered with versions of the same deceptively boastful claim. “We don’t like music,” says guitarist Steve Jones, whose 2016 memoir lonely boy they gave form to the miniseries, after one of the first concerts of the band. “We like chaos.”

So many identify with that sentiment and so often – Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, the Machiavellian donnnadie turned band manager, Malcolm McLaren – that it ultimately emerges as the band’s unwitting manifesto. For better or worse, it could also have been the guiding principle for Danny Boyle’s ambitious and occasionally even exuberant take on a story that’s already been told on screen several times before, most notably in the obscure cult hit Sid & Nancy.

In this version, working-class teenager Steve, played with a stormy mix of energy and despondency by Toby Wallace (babyteeth), brings the Sex Pistols to life in London in the 1970s. It’s not just the gang member who needs it most (his stepfather despises him, he’s a functional illiterate), but the one with the audacity to steal the equipment. who need the Odeon.

Still, it’s easy to imagine that the group would never have graduated from garage rehearsals were it not for fashion designer Vivienne Westwood (Talulah Riley), who develops a liking for Steve even when he tries to rob her store. Vivienne’s opportunistic boyfriend, Malcolm, glimpses a scruffy appeal in Steve that matches the desperation of British austerity. “Ruffians like you thrill me,” declares Malcolm, played with deft charm undermined by a sort of sleazy, languid elocution by Thomas Brodie-Sangster (The Queen’s Gambit).

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It’s never clear how seriously Malcolm takes his anti-establishment and anti-fascist politics; what is more certain is that he sees an opportunity to commodify the moment. He invites Johnny Rotten (Anson Boon), who had never sung before, as the band’s lead singer, and then Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge, Enola Holmes), who had never played bass before, to fill in for the bassist, the only man in the band who can seriously play his instrument.

Boyle never quite hits the nail on the head on the question of the authenticity of the Sex Pistols, which was rooted in the band members’ working-class backgrounds, and found expression in a brutal sound and anarchist image overseen by Malcolm. In all probability, the truth lies in the slightly unsatisfactory gray space that Boyle conjures up. The Pistols were creating the culture at the same time they were responding to it. Malcolm was drawn to them because they had nothing left to live for, a condition he changed the instant he agreed to back them.

The most glaring problem is that the series never achieves the unabashed cynicism we associate with the Sex Pistols or punk rock, or even the flamboyance we’ve come to expect from Danny Boyle’s other productions, such as Trainspotting either Slumdog Millionaire. The concert scenes come closer. Boon captures the vocalist’s menacing intensity, and while Partridge can’t match Gary Oldman’s ferocity in Sid & Nancyhis Sid is more youthful, more vulnerable.

The Sex Pistols have been lauded as trailblazers and condemned as hooligans (the BBC didn’t want to broadcast their single “God Save the Queen” even after it topped the charts), but here, too, they’re just kids. Sidney Chandler (Don’t Worry Darling) is especially poignant as a pre-Pretenders Chrissie Hynde who refuses to return home to Ohio until she’s a star. For most of the series, the Sex Pistols feel more like fugitives than rock stars.

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The action is interspersed with vintage-looking footage – a saluting queen, scenes of striking workers, and scenes of police violence – that efficiently establishes the setting around the series. But the show’s portrayal of punk rock itself, filtered through the lens of Malcolm’s machinations and even, at times, the vanity of the band’s kids, feels more like image than spirit. , as an escape rather than as a way of life. Gununlike the music that inspired it, never grabs you by the throat.