Maisie Williams

Pistol

03/06/22

Disney +

Looking back, it’s hard to fully appreciate the full cataclysm delivered to the United Kingdom by the arrival of The Sex Pistols in 1975. Here were four working class lads who could barely play their instruments and who seemed more interested in causing controversy than producing hit records. They did manage the latter, even if the radio initially refused to play them. Now, with the Jubilee in full swing, it’s a really interesting time for this six part series to land – and, if the House of Mouse seems an unlikely home for it, Danny Boyle as director makes perfect sense.

Working alongside regular collaborator, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantel, Boyle makes this much more than a standard rock biopic. The extended running time offers him the opportunity to explore a more diverse landscape. Co-written by guitarist Steve Jones (played here by Toby Wallace), and based on his auto-biography, this shows how the Pistols were a construct, created in the fevered brain of agent provocateur Malcolm McLaren (a wonderfully smarmy performance by Thomas Brodie-Sangster). His callous machinations are clearly displayed, as he edges out original bassist Glen Matlock (Christian Lees) – who he considers too straight and too musically accomplished – in favour of Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge), who can’t play a note but looks perfect.

Dod Mantel’s restless cameras capture everyone else in the vicinity. They include Chrissie Hynde (Sydney Chandler), who comes within a hair’s breadth of fronting the band; Vivienne Westwood (Talulah Riley), who creates the Pistols’ iconic look; and Jordan (Maisie Williams), who blazes a trail for women’s rights in her own fearless way. (Sadly, the real Jordan died only weeks before this series was released.)

Boyle liberally peppers the proceedings with contemporary newsreel footage, tabloid headlines and clips of established musicians touting their pompous productions: an extract from Rick Wakeman’s ‘King Arthur & The Knight’s of the Round Table – on Ice’ really ought to be a spoof, but sadly isn’t.

There are uncannily realistic recreations of true events, including the Pistols’ explosive appearance on the Bill Grundy TV show, their ill-fated tour around the north of England and their even more disastrous attempt to play a series of gigs in America. There’s an inevitable dip in episode seven as the heartbreaking relationship between Vicious and Nancy Spungen (Emma Appleton) reaches its inevitable conclusion, but Boyle could hardly have left it out – and, happily, the lost momentum is soon recovered.

It’s interesting to note that the actors perform their own music and vocals, so much respect is due to Anson Boon, who has the difficult task of portraying John Lydon and actually making us care about him. His performance is a particular triumph.

Eagle-eyed viewers may spot the fact that Boyle occasionally slips performance footage of the real band into the mix and it’s entirely to his credit that those moments are genuinely hard to spot. Poor advance reviews mean that I don’t expect to like it as much as I do – indeed, I find it so utterly compulsive, I watch all six episodes in two hugely enjoyable binges.

Never mind the bad buzz – this really is the bollocks!

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Falling

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03/05/15

Carol Morley’s The Falling is an intriguing and occasionally mesmerising film, that has somehow managed to stake a claim at the multiplexes, amidst the tub-thumping superhero and action flicks. You’ll have to go back a long way to find something similar; all the way, in fact, to 1975, and Peter Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock, with which this film seems to share an affinity for the languorous, sensual qualities of nature. Weir’s story was, of course, based in Australia and this one, somewhere in the UK (it’s never actually specified exactly where) but Morley is fond of counterpointing luscious shots of lakes and woods with the tightly corseted, emotionless wasteland of a girls’ private school. Indeed, the two films have so many scenes in common, I refuse to believe that it’s coincidental.

It’s 1969 and the wild and rebellious Abbie (Florence Pugh) is beginning to discover the depths of her own sexuality. Her best friend, Lydia (Maisie Williams) can only watch helplessly as Abbie is inexorably drawn away from her towards Lydia’s brother, Kenneth (Joe Cole). Lydia lives with Kenneth and her tightly buttoned mother, Eileen (Maxine Peake) an agoraphobe who never leaves the house and who seems incapable of portraying any kind of emotion whatsoever. When Abbie finds she is pregnant, it threatens to blow apart the closeted world of the private school she attends and Lydia starts to look for ways to procure an abortion for her friend – but shortly afterwards, Abbie collapses and dies. The resulting shock has a profound effect on her fellow pupils. Lydia begins to experience rapturous fainting spells and as hysteria mounts, more and more more girls (and even one of the female teachers) experience the same phenomenon. In the film’s most powerful scene, pretty much the whole morning assembly succumbs. Is it simply a case of mass hysteria? Or is something deeper and more sinister at work?

The film revels in throwing out more questions than it has answers for. Morley’s slow, sensual direction generates an atmosphere of incredible tension and there are occasional uses of subliminal imagery that lend the film an almost hallucinatory quality. As Lydia, Williams delivers an unforgettable performance, while Pugh is so charismatic that her memory haunts the proceedings despite her early exit. Interesting too, to see former Merchant Ivory pin-up Greta Scaachi, taking on the role of the school’s sternest teacher.

The Falling is by no means a perfect film, but it’s far more experimental than most movies you’ll see these days and it has an ephemeral quality that will prompt you to talk about it long after the final credits have rolled. Not something you would say about Iron Man or The Avengers.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney