Danny Boyle’s Sex Pistols miniseries is punk rock paint-by-numbers
Adapted from Jones’ 2016 memoir lonely boy, the show follows the guitarist as he cobbles together a band of local miscreants, led by supreme manipulator McLaren and designer Vivienne Westwood, whose clothing store Sex was fertile ground for London’s punk scene. The show touches on the main points: the band’s formation, the ousting of founding bassist Glen Matlock, Jones’ coital friendship with a pre-Pretenders Chrissie Hynde, Sid and Nancy’s horror show, and the band’s inevitable downfall. .
Pearce’s screenplay is full of sweeping manifestos and pep talks that turn flashes of rebellion into rote history lessons. During an early rehearsal scene, McLaren surrounds the band members like a shark. “I want to hear the fury of the forgotten generation,” he barks. “A generation without a future! A generation that has no other goal than to destroy!” The Queen’s BetThomas Brodie-Sangster plays the notorious Svengali as a supervillain with a twirling mustache – think Snidely Whiplash, if he looked like an evil cherub. On the eve of the Pistols’ first concert at Saint Martin’s School of Art, McLaren shows his minions a video of Yes’ capped keyboardist Rick Wakeman playing with his ivories and explains that rock’n’roll has become “a sedative mind-numbing for the masses.” He continues: “Tomorrow evening, we launch our mission of destruction. You almost expect him to lift a pinky finger to his pursed lips, Dr. Evil style.
The screenwriter seems petrified that the audience is missing something: a reference, a song title, a blow on the head with a blunt instrument. Some phrases are repeated to a comedic degree. We learn early on that Jones was called a “lazy lawn” by his stepfather as a child, before Jones worked the phrase into the initial version of “Seventeen.” The term is immersed in conversation to the point of nausea, as if Pearce is waiting around every corner to whisper, You know, lazy, like the song? ! At one point, while awaiting sentencing in a courtroom, Jones assesses his self-esteem. “I’m nothing but a lazy man,” he told the judge. That no one counters the recall with an “aw shucks” or “by golly” is a small miracle.
Boyle commits the same crime of over-explanation, largely through shocking skipped cuts in historical footage. Some of it works: Quick splices of actual Sex Pistols concerts and news shows decrying punk music give the episodes a gritty, glued edge. But Boyle continues, literalizing the dialogue with additional shots at every conceivable opportunity. When Jones explains to McLaren how he learned to drive, Boyle cuts to clips of Michael Caine speeding around in the 1969s. Italian work. In the middle of a concert at a beachfront hotel, the Sex Pistols have to turn the volume down because the grannies playing bingo in the next room can’t hear the numbers. The frame then fills with spinning bingo balls. Boyle’s work is known for its choppy frenzy, but GunThe tell-then-show formula is obtuse.