Danny Boyle’s Pistol was adapted from the warts and all memoir of Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones. The book—Lonely Boy (2016)—recounts Jones’ troubled London upbringing and the Sex Pistols’ brief, incendiary history. As Boyle and Pistol screenwriter Craig Pearce insist, Jones’ micro experiences played a central role in galvanising a mass movement.
Given its source material, Pistol approaches the oft-told story of the late 1970s punk rock uprising from a different angle. Neither Johnny Rotten nor Sid vicious nor Malcolm McLaren is the focal point. Rather, Pistol is as much a portrayal of the 20-something Jones’ past trauma and damaged psyche as it is a depiction of how a bunch of state-oppressed ruffians with limited musical ability became flag-bearers for an international revolt against the crusty establishment.
The ripple effects of the punk rock watershed can be felt to this day. The definition of “punk” remains nebulous and widely contested, but it’s fair to say that punk rock circa-2022 is a broad church.
We got three punk and punk-adjacent bands from Sydney—The Buoys, Low Life and These New South Whales—to watch the first two episodes of Pistol and tell us what they thought.
The Buoys, Low Life and These New South Whales review ‘Pistol’
Pistol begins a year or two before London’s punk rock heyday, but the series has a great soundtrack from the get-go. The first two episodes include a lot of Ziggy-era David Bowie.
“I loved the incorporation of Bowie tracks,” said The Buoys’ Courtney Cunningham. “The music throughout it is awesome,” agreed Low Life’s Cristian O’Sullivan. “The Modern Lovers, The New York Dolls, Bowie.”
Jones (played Toby Wallace) bonds with the American Chrissie Hynde (Sydney Chandler) over their love of Bowie. In his interactions with Hynde—who went on to form the Pretenders—Jones gives up the tough guy act and shows a more vulnerable side.
“I quite liked Toby Wallace as Steve Jones and Sydney Chandler as Chrissy Hynde,” said Low Life’s Mitch Tolman.
To prepare for the role, Wallace, an Australian actor, spent time with the real Steve Jones. “He captures my vibe—a bit vulnerable, a bit thick,” Jones told Rolling Stone Australia.
Episode two features a re-enactment of Johnny Rotten’s audition. Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) brings Rotten (Anson Boon) into SEX, the West London clothing boutique he runs with his partner Vivenne Westwood. McLaren puts Alice Cooper on the jukebox and asks Rotten to sing for Jones and drummer Paul Cook (Jacob Slater).
“The Johnny Rotten audition scene pretty was great,” said These New South Whales. “His vocals are sick.”
All the live music in Pistol was performed by the actors, many of whom had no background in music. “Great vocal performance in the band scenes from Anson Boon. Sounds just like Johnny Rotten,” said These New South Whales.
Pistol is unmistakably a Danny Boyle production. Druggy flashbacks, saturated colours, the hazing of dream and reality—it’s all there. “It is aesthetically very Danny Boyle,” said Low Life’s Greg Alfaro. “If you like his style of directing/editing, especially T2: Trainspotting, you’ll have no issues.”
“I absolutely adored the way it was shot,” said Cunningham. The Buoys’ lead vocalist Zoe Catterall agreed: “Stylistically it transports you to that era.”
Pistol screenwriter Craig Pearce is known for his decades’ long collaboration with director Baz Luhrmann. Some of Luhrmann’s characteristic extravagance seeps into Pistol. “It’s fantastical, Baz Luhrmann-y. Dare I say Danny Boyle-sy,” said These New South Whales.
Boyle’s direction shines a light on the crumbling streets of Central London in the mid-to-late 1970s. “The 70s looks so odd,” said These New South Whales. “What a weird decade.” The shots of rubbish-lined streets and the fledgling Sex Pistols practicing in abandoned warehouses are offset by sequences of high-intensity colour and movement, representing the brewing storm of punk rock.
“Style and tone for me was spot on,” said Courtney Cunningham of the Buoys. “The greys and dull looks, as well as the more euphoric reds, greens and yellows spoke to the moments that were exhilarating, dangerous and promiscuous.”
Several Danny Boyle films, such Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, balance grit and crises with levity, and Pistol is no different. “There is some funny dialogue as you’d expect given the subject and Danny Boyle being involved,” said Low Life’s Cristian O’Sullivan.
The members of The Buoys, Low Life and These New South Whales were all captivated enough to want to dive into the show’s final four episodes, which are streaming on Disney+ under the Star banner.
“I got goosebumps a number of times,” said These New South Whales. “Would keep watching.” “I was expecting to hate it,” said Low Life’s O’Sullivan, “but I was entertained enough to be interested to see where it goes from here.”
For Catterall and the rest of The Buoys, watching Pistol put a fire in their bellies. “We watched it just before going on stage and it riled us up so much that we played such a huge show with a few accidental English accents flying around on stage.”