For the first two of its six episodes Pistol feels like pantomime. A bunch of fairly fresh-faced young actors, their hair spiked, their make-up smeared and their wardrobe carefully torn, wrap their gobs around Australian screenwriter Craig Pearce’s dialogue for the benefit of director Danny Boyle’s roaming camera.
It’s kids playing dress-up, which feels like an affront to the old school until you realise that, to some degree (exactly how much is up for violent debate) punk is predicated on kids playing dress up—mostly working class kids expressing their alienation and anger in the initial mid-70s explosion, mostly kids further up the socioeconomic ladder when the forces of commercialisation took hold, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren (Thomas Brodie-Sangster).
It seems a bit precious to complain about the current crop of young talents embodying the elder statesmen of anarchy on screen when so many of those statesmen never got to be elder—lord knows Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge) and Nancy Spungen (Emma Appleton) didn’t.
The best way to enjoy Pistol, which is based on Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones’ memoir, Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol, is with a healthy dose of ironic detachment and a touch of paternalistic indulgence—the kids are all right, by and large. Toby Wallace, excellent in the recent Babyteeth, does what he can as Jones, here more or less the straight man for the rest of the series’ menagerie, and we can assume that his character’s relative innocence derives from Jones’ image of himself.