An uneven but engaging ode to punk rock

The musical biopic is known for sticking to a certain formula, in that Jake Kasdanthe cult comedy of 2007 Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story made the genre almost superfluous. Yet, following box office successes like Straight outta Compton and Bohemian Rhapsody, the formula has become a golden goose for Hollywood. Movies like the critically acclaimed Elton John biopic Rocketman told the familiar rise to fame and story of battling addiction through the guise of a fantastically successful jukebox musical. Last year feature film Respect followed the heart-warming true story of Aretha Franklin, which was previously told just months prior in Season 3 of National Geographic’s anthology biographical series Genius. This year will deliver the cinematic histories of the careers of larger-than-life icons like Elvis Presley and Whitney Houston with Elvis and I want to dance with someone. Besides these, there are also biopics in the works of Madonna, Cher, Bob Marley, the Bee Gees, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead. Hell, even Weird Al Yankovic is enjoying the fun with the part-parody biopic Bizarre: the story of Al Yankovic. So what makes Gunthe biographical mini-series about the groundbreaking ’70s punk rock band sex guns different?

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Well, the truth is, the story behind the Sex Pistols is a far cry from the glamorous portrayal of celebrity that other biopics have depicted. Danny Boyle proved to be the perfect choice to bring their story to life, injecting his sensibility from his escape film Trainspotting in the story of Steve Jones (Toby Wallace). Jones’ upbringing was far from pleasant, he and his mother were constantly abused by his cruel alcoholic stepfather, he was in and out of juvenile detention centers and he was illiterate. Jones’ ultimate dream in life, to be a David Bowie-level rock star, seemed out of reach, until he began recovering stolen gear from concert stages. But Jones realizes that he and his pals can never really be sexy superstars like the Beatles, they realize that they represent England’s invisible, neglected blue-collar working-class people.


Related: ‘Pistol’ Trailer: Danny Boyle’s Sex Pistols Series Brings Anarchy To The UK

Under the wing of Malcolm MacLaren (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and Vivienne Westwood (Talulah Riley) owners of the quirky-named boutique SEX, Jones’ rock and roll dreams begin to come true with the formation of the Sex Pistols. As the band members come and go, sometimes by force, Jones begins to become disillusioned with his new lifestyle and falls under the influence of drugs. He is increasingly at odds with the band’s new singer, Johnny Rotten (Anson Boon), doubting his own worth because of his rocky upbringing, and he is head over heels in love with American rock journalist Chrissie Hynde (Sydney Chandler).

While the series also delves into the tragic, drug- and sex-fueled romance between Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge) and Nancy Spungen (Emma Appleton) as well as Johnny Rotten’s meeting with Pauline (Bianca Stephens), a schizophrenic woman who inspired the song “Bodies”, and a glimpse into the life of Jordan aka Pamela Rooke (Maisie Williams), Gun it is first and foremost the story of Steve Jones. It is this particular creative decision that ultimately makes Gun works as well as it does. While there are aspects of the show that tread on familiar ground when it comes to rock n’ roll biopics, including the tension between band members, the fact that Jones is apparently the only band member to having consulted the series makes it more honest.


Gun never tries to make the audience like its characters, but rather tries to make you understand them. There are no egos or skeletons hiding in the closet; instead, for the most part, we are faced with the often grim reality of the Sex Pistols. When the show shows a scene with this group at odds, it doesn’t choose to follow it by showing a scene of the band members hugging her moments later.

Boyle’s directing style is sporadic, tricked out and more in tune with his work on Trainspotting than to say a Slumdog Millionaire. There’s a vintage aesthetic to the way the series is framed, Boyle and his team weren’t obsessed with making Gun feeling like the oft-invented “prestige TV,” but more of its own unique thing. It’s what ends up making Pistol as entertaining as it is. Boyle’s vision makes the series’ pacing feel like an adrenaline rush. Accompanied by some stellar actors especially Boon as the notorious Johnny Rotten. Boon clearly understands the kind of energy to exude in a series about a group as divisive as the Sex Pistols. From his introductory audition scene to the show’s final moments, Boon never loses sight of Rotten. While some of his co-stars sometimes feel sidelined or two-dimensional, Boon gives the show a shocking jolt whenever it needs it. Another notable performance is that of Williams; while her role as Pamela Rooke seems small, she really impresses in her first scene, riding her bike to the station in nothing but a yellow sheer top, seemingly carefree in the world of petrified onlookers.


While the series features plenty of raw moments, the opening episode feels all too familiar in its execution. Creator and screenwriter of series Craig Pearce certainly seems like he has a lot of passion behind the subject, but the dialogue and narration in the first episode feels a bit tired and formulaic. Thankfully, as the series progressed, Pearce seemed to find a rhythm that worked in telling the Sex Pistols story. Pearce is used to writing for maximalist, style-driven directors such as Baz Luhrmann, so working with Boyle was the perfect match. A filmmaker like Boyle can often take stories that sound familiar and give them a nudge of his own vision that helps the material find its voice and that was especially the case with Gun.

While some former band members may be unhappy with Gun, it’s probably for the best. The style and flair are still there, but there’s a hidden honesty to the show that makes it worth watching and one that even non-Sex Pistols fans might appreciate.

Evaluation: B+

The six episodes of Gun are now available to stream on Hulu.


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Diana J. Carleton