”Early Seventies Britain was a very depressing place. It was completely run-down, there was trash on the streets, total unemployment — just about everybody was on strike. Everybody was brought up with an education system that told you point blank that if you came from the wrong side of the tracks… then you had no hope in hell and no career prospects at all.”
So sayeth, in the pages of John Robb’s history Punk Rock, John Lydon, the skinny firebrand who famously took the name Johnny Rotten (a reference to his poor dental hygiene) and infamously fronted the pioneering punk group Sex Pistols.
Scuttling through those awful conditions was Steve Jones (Toby Wallace), a working-class Londoner with no future and a fuzzy dream of becoming a rock star. When he wasn’t stealing cars and driving them until they ran out of petrol, he was nicking gear from the likes of David Bowie and Hawkwind to form The Swankers, his roughshod band with buddies Glen Matlock (Christian Lees) and Paul Cook (Jacob Slater).
Jones somehow convinces Malcolm McLaren (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), a well-spoken scenester and co-owner of the provocative clothing store SEX with girlfriend Vivienne Westwood (Talulah Riley), to become the group’s manager. Hoping to foment a cultural revolution a la the punk scene he witnessed while living in the States (and serving for a time as manager of the New York Dolls), he molds this group into Sex Pistols, drawing in Lydon (Anson Boon) to be the acerbic frontman and pushing them to challenge the mores of proper British society.
McLaren’s manipulative efforts and the band’s growing talent prove all-too-successful, with Sex Pistols garnering headlines for the violence of their performances and the snarling rhetoric in their songs. It all implodes spectacularly after Matlock is replaced — at McLaren’s insistence — by an untested and unhinged Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge) and the band is sent on a disastrous U.S. tour.
Stop Your Cheap Comments, ‘Cause We Know What We Feel: For months now, the only people who seemed to be excited for Pistol’s arrival were the folks responsible for its creation.
John Lydon, vocalist for the Pistols, fueled by his anger that the producers of Pistol didn’t consult him for the show, initially forbade the series from using any of his band’s music. (His hand was forced by a High Court judge after Jones and Cook leveled a lawsuit against him.)
Then, once footage of the series was snuck out into the world, reactions were swift and harsh. Critic Simon Reynolds sniffed that, “the kids looked too winsomely cute to pass for Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten,” and one YouTube commenter summed up the consensus thusly: “Looks bloody awful!! You can see why they left John out of the production process because he would never had [sic] let this happen!!”