Danny Boyle’s bile-infused biopic of The Sex Pistols, titled Pistol, is an ensemble drama that is essentially an in-depth character study of not only its motley crew of punk rockers but of the scene they made famous. Pistol ‘s cast of characters may have youthful naivety on their side but they are all deeply flawed in equal measure.
The characters ‘likability is therefore measurable by how much the audience can empathize with them, and while viewers today are separated from the subjects of Boyle’s series by several generations, there are still plenty of ways in which the characters’ plights ring true with a modern audience. Youth culture changes decade by decade but at its core, there are always intriguing and unforgettable characters who define their generations, and the scene depicted in Pistol is no different.
Music journalist and on-and-off boyfriend of Chrissie Hynde, Nick Kent, is portrayed by Boyle in the show as a self-obsessed egomaniac, whose only apparent wish in life is to emulate the Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.
Despite clearly dissatisfying Chrissie, Nick fails to mature as a character or, even for that matter, show any sort of humility. His sneering arrogance is put into a stark perspective by the fame that Chrissie and The Sex Pistols both eventually find. In both instances, their talents far outweigh Nick’s ego.
Malcolm McLaren, played by Game Of Thrones‘Thomas Bradie-Sangster, is equal part entrepreneurial genius, opportunist, and revolutionary. For much of the show, McLaren’s charm is beguiling and eminently likable.
However, as MacLaren’s true intentions for the band become apparent later in the series, it becomes clear that the young music pioneer only has his image to promote and betrays the trust of Steve and the rest of the Pistols in eventually leading them towards a doomed end on their tour to the States.
Out of all the cast of characters in Boyle’s Pistol, drummer Paul Cook is possibly the most overlooked. This may be because he was a mainstay in the band but was also not one of its more charismatic members.
Cook, though, is a likable enough character considering he has little screen time and is portrayed as coming from a warm and loving home which is in stark contrast to the traumatic upbringing of Pistol‘s main character Steve Jones. Even though Cook never reaches the heights of infamy that his fellow bandmates achieve, he still maintains his integrity.
Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen’s doomed love affair was one of the seminal moments in punk rock history. The pair’s toxic relationship has previously been the subject of a famous biopic, starring Gary Oldman the 1980s titled Sid and Nancy.
In Pistol, Nancy is portrayed as being idealistic and carefree but is also cast as somewhat of a pariah by the band as she becomes steadily more influential over Sid’s lifestyle, which leads the pair on a path to destruction. The portrayal of the couple is tragic and heartfelt and is one of the Pistol ‘s most enduring strengths.
Thomas Bradie-Sangster is not the only former cast member from Game Of Thrones who makes an appearance in Boyle’s Sex Pistols biopic. Maisie Williams plays the striking Pamela Rooke in Pistol and her character wears on her sleeve all the punk rock iconography and ideology that made the era so famous.
Pamela is portrayed in the show as being a strong and caring character with fierce integrity and in one of the most poignant scenes in the series, shows a caring side as she looks out for two Sex Pistol’s obsessed runaways who are far from home.
The Sex Pistols ‘enigmatic and uncompromising frontman John Lydon has been famously antagonistic towards the adaptation of Steve Jones’ memoir for the screen. But the portrayal of Lydon by Anson Boon in the show is a standout performance in a cast full of standout performances.
Lydon, or Johnny Rotten as he was commonly known, was a punk rock icon who did not typify the stereotypical image at the time of a well-dressed and conventionally handsome rockstar. For all Lydon’s character faults, he is portrayed in the show as being a complicated genius but his social incompetence does not endear him at first to his fellow punks.
In Pistol Sid Vicious is portrayed as being a handsome, egocentric, and sweet-natured young man. The tragedy that befalls him and his lover, Nancy Spungen, is central to the lasting image of not only The Sex Pistols but of the period as a whole.
Sid Vicious ‘story is a cautionary tale, but the audience is made to speculate by Boyle as to what Vicious’ fate may have had had he not been jettisoned into fame so quickly. The handling of Vicious and Spungen’s love affair is done sensitively by Boyle and leaves a lasting impression by the conclusion of the show.
World-famous fashion icon Vivienne Westwood, like so many of her contemporaries, came from humble beginnings and was one of the most prominent figures who gave rise to the influential movement that birthed The Sex Pistols.
In Pistol Westwood is portrayed as one of the masterminds behind the rise of the band, particularly in styling their iconic looks. She is, perhaps, along with McLaren, the most intelligent of all the characters. However, she also has the heart to match her guile and is unsympathetic to McLaren’s self-indulgence at the expense of their punk philosophy.
Since Pistol is based on Jones’s memoir, it comes as no surprise that the character is the focal point of the show. However, far from being the most consistently likable character, Jones is portrayed as being pretty flawed.
But since Boyle’s camera rarely wavers from following Jones’s every move, the audience builds a connection with the character unlike anyone else in the show. Jones may be a complicated and self-indulgent character but is the most entertaining by a mile.
Before Sid Vicious rubberstamped his name forever on the Sex Pistols, former bassist Glen Matlock was the sweet-natured, idealistic soul of the band. Matlock was almost universally underappreciated by his bandmates and McLaren, but not so by those watching Boyle’s Pistol.
Matlock’s rollercoaster ride with the Pistols is summed up by his friendship with Jones, and when Matlock reveals to his best friend that the band is the only place where he has felt appreciated, it is indicative of many who align with the punk ethos and is also a sympathetic reading of what it means to feel different to the socially accepted norm.
Before Chryssie Hynde shot to fame with The Pretenders, she formed an integral part of the scene which birthed The Sex Pistols and is considered by Boyle and Jones to be one of the foremost characters in the story.
There is a good reason for this, and that is because Hynde is a complex and beguiling character who the audience cannot help but empathize with from start to finish. Hynde personifies the struggles facing women in a music scene that, despite raging against systematic oppression, is inherently still very patriarchal.
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