Pistol Grips

Danny Boyle’s Sex Pistol series shines new light on punk pioneers.

Where: Disney+
What: Miniseries, 6 episodes, 60 mins.
When: Tue., May 31
Genre: Drama
Why you should watch: An in-depth telling of the rise of punk icons Sex Pistols, this miniseries has all the substance abuse and aggressive music you would expect but also the heart and emotion often missing from the crude newspaper headlines that surround this band.

Telling a story through film is a challenging task on its own, but telling the story of real people and their lived experiences can be a daunting undertaking. No stranger to biographical pieces is Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Days), who sits with me on a phone call one afternoon to chat about his upcoming TV show Pistol. This six-episode miniseries uncovers the origins and inner workings of legendary punk band Sex Pistols, and although I can’t see his face, the passion in Boyle’s voice tells me just how important this project is to him.

“I agreed to do the show immediately because music is such a fundamental part of my own life,” the director shares. “I wouldn’t be here without punk — I wouldn’t be a film director without punk.”

Pistol is based on guitarist Steve Jones’s memoir, Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol, and those unfamiliar with Jones’s life might be surprised by how heart-wrenching the show can be. Many would imagine a punk program to be filled with booze, drugs, outrageous outfits and ear-splitting electric guitars. Don’t be dissuaded — there’s plenty of that in the series. However, between the studded leather and cocky attitudes are moments of vulnerability. Viewers learn that Jones, who also serves as executive producer on the series, was abused as a child and was illiterate for most of his life. It’s not much of a stretch to say that being in a band was life-saving for the musician and this rendition of Jones’s story deepens the meaning of the punk movement.

“In the 1970s, you were young and then you were old. It felt like there was nothing in between,” Boyle is the same age as Jones and watched Sex Pistols evolve in real time. “And suddenly there was this movement that said, ‘Yes there is and it’s yours to do whatever the fuck you want with!’ It was a fundamental shift in the world. I know so many people who benefitted from punk.’”

I have to wholeheartedly agree with Boyle. I owe much of my taste in modern music and fashion to punk and the doors it opened for other creators. Punk has spanned decades in one form or another and Pistol has the unique ability of bringing viewers across these generations together.

“When you listen to stuff that’s 40, 50 years old, there’s something old about it. I don’t mean that in a pejorative way, it’s often charming. But Sex Pistols still feel fresh. And when the cast started playing the songs, they felt that as well. They felt this is relevant and hopefully it will be to a younger generation. And then there’s those who lived through it, they’ll be watching to see if I’ve done it accurately!”

The cast is a delightfully youthful bunch that carefully embody their historical figures. In only six episodes, the show covers a surprising amount of ground and introduces a lot of key individuals. We meet Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren in their West London boutique before they became household names. We see the recruitment of both John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) and Sid Vicious and we get a new side of Nancy Spungen, one that’s often left out of the “Sid and Nancy” narrative. Boyle reminds his viewers that Sex Pistols and much of their entourage were incredibly young when their lives changed forever. Their stories have been warped and stigmatized over the years and he hopes to tackle that.

“It’s a chance to look at Rotten, not just the contrarian nature of him, but to look at his humanity and his genius,” Boyle explains. “It’s a chance to look at the beauty of Sid. People have talked about him quite extensively, about how beautiful he was as a human being. You get a chance to look behind the myth.”

Playing Vicious is rising star Louis Partridge, who shares his experience on a separate call with me.

“I didn’t want to mess it up!” Partridge laughs. “I didn’t want to piss off anybody that knows and loves Sid. So I read everything I could, watched everything I could. I learned the accent, which was probably the hardest part. I tinker around with the piano but that’s not gonna cut it for the Sex Pistols! So I had to learn the bass. I watched the way he played so I could get his physicality. Hard work, but fascinating.”

Whether you’re a long-time fan or a punk rock novice, there’s something for everyone in Pistol.

Check Out the Mini Review Here