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Photograph: Rebecca Brenneman/FX

‘Pistol’: Everything you need to know about Danny Boyle’s Sex Pistols epic

Sex, drugs, more, stronger drugs...

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen
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In the most exciting news for punk fans since the invention of the safety pin, Danny Boyle has been busy making a new TV series based on the life of Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones. It’s loosely adapted from Jones’s 2016 memoir ‘Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol’ and tells the story of the band’s coming together – and coming apart. It’s a six-part Apple TV+ series directed and exec-produced by Boyle and it’s streaming soon. Here’s everything you need to know about it. 

When is Pistol out?

All six episodes land on Hulu in the US and on Disney+ in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore on May 31, 2022. It will launch in other territories (including in South America on Star) later this year. 

Is there a Pistol trailer?

Yes, and you can watch it below. 

What is Pistol about?

Firstly, note the title: it’s ‘Pistol’, not ‘Pistols’. It’s the story of the band from the perspective of Steve Jones, the Shepherd’s Bush-born self-professed 94th greatest guitarist of all time. He was band mates with lead singer Johnny Rotten, drummer Paul Cook, and first bassist Glen Matlock, then Sid Vicious when Matlock was jettisoned from the band.

The Sex Pistols’ brief but incendiary lifespan began in London in 1975, reached its famous/infamous highpoint – the banning of single ‘God Save the Queen’ (sample lyric: ‘God save the Queen and her fascist regime’) by the BBC – in 1977, and eventually burnt out after a tumultuous tour of America a year later. Vicious died of a heroin overdose in 1979, after allegedly murdering his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. 

‘Imagine breaking into the world of The Crown and Downton Abbey with your mates and screaming your songs and your fury at all they represent,’ says Boyle. ‘This is the moment that British society and culture changed forever. It is the detonation point for British street culture. At its centre was a young charming illiterate kleptomaniac – a hero for the times – Steve Jones. This is how he got there.’

The show will take in Jones’s early dalliance with crime, and subsequent spell in a remand centre, as well as his rehabilitation via the world’s most famous punk rock band. Not that his life got any less tumultuous from there. After all, as Jones once said about the band: ‘We're not into music. We're into chaos.’ Expect Pistol to pack in all that creativity, rancour, madness and magic.

Pistol
Photograph: Miya Mizuno/FXLeft to right) Louis Partridge as Sid Vicious, Anson Boon as John Lydon, Jacob Slater as drummer Paul Cook and Toby Wallace as Steve Jones

Were the Sex Pistols involved in the show?

Unlike Jones, an essential Pistol collaborator, John Lydon has had a fiery relationship with Pistol – albeit from a distance. The former Johnny Rotten claims that he wasn’t consulted on the choice of actor picked to play him and has threatened to take legal action. ‘I think that’s the most disrespectful shit I’ve ever had to endure.’ he told The Times. ‘I mean they went to the point to hire an actor to play me but what’s that actor working on? Certainly not my character. It can’t go anywhere else [but court].’

The production responded by saying that Boyle had written to Lydon: ‘[He] wished to speak with Mr Lydon personally about the production of Pistol. Ultimately, however, direct contact was declined.’
Whatever the facts of its origins, Pistol will be navigating some contentious terrain. Word is that it will showcase a different aspect to the band than the raging, anti-establishment tearaways of legend, showing a bunch of pals living the dream – and, sure, flicking the V-sign to all the sundry in the process.

Pistol
Photograph: Miya Mizuno/FXThe Pistols: (from left to right) Jacob Slater as Paul Cook, Anson Boon as John Lyndon, Toby Wallace as Steve Jones, Christian Lees as Glen Matlock

Who is in Pistol?

It’s a cast of will-be-stars rather than familiar faces – although keep in mind, Boyle helped introduce the world to Ewan McGregor and Dev Patel and knows a talented newcomer when he sees one. Jones is played by Babyteeth star Toby Wallace, while newcomer Anson Boon steps into Johnny Rotten’s George Cox creepers. Louis Partridge (Enola Holmes) plays Sid Vicious, Jacob Slater is Paul Cook, and Christian Lees is bassist Glen Matlock.

The women in the Sex Pistols’ lives are played by up-and-coming actresses: Sydney Chandler plays Chrissie Hynde, Emma Appleton (The Witcher) plays Nancy Spungen, while Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams appears as punk fashion icon Pamela Rooke, aka Jordan.

Two Pistols collaborators, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and the band’s manager Malcolm McLaren, will also be key figures in the series. They’re played by Pride & Prejudice actress Talulah Riley and another Game of Thrones alumnus, Thomas Brodie-Sangster. 

As for the Sex Pistols fans, punks and ‘70s-era Londoners who will help fill the frame with edgy colour, well, you might even spot a familiar face or two. A casting call went out in late 2020 looking for ‘men and women aged 18-28’ with ‘1970s hair’ to work as extras on the production. 

Who is behind Pistol?

The creator is Baz Luhrmann’s long-time collaborator Craig Pearce, the co-writer of Moulin Rouge! and Strictly Ballroom. His Pistol co-writer, meanwhile, is an old Danny Boyle collaborator: Frank Cottrell Boyce, the writer of Boyle’s 2004 comedy-drama Millions and the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.

But Boyle is very much the front man here – he directed all six episodes and will bring his long-standing passion for rock and punk to the show (even if, push come to shove, The Clash is his true first love). And Pistol brings a nice circularity for the director of that Olympic opening ceremony: he has now directed the Queen and the snotty-nosed kids who stuck two fingers up to her.

Where was Pistol filmed?

There have been sightings of spiky-haired punks across London, from Bermonsley’s Spa Gardens to the Southbank, to Rye Lane in Peckham, to St John’s Wood. The shoot also took in a trip to Waco in Texas, where the San Francisco’s Miyako Hotel, where band’s break-up unfolded, was recreated. 

Jones’s year in a remand centre for young offenders was recreated in Dover's Citadel, which was once a borstal itself, among other Kent locations. Hertfordshire’s market town of Hemel Hempstead doubled up for Huddersfield, where the band played its final, riotous UK gig on Christmas Day 1977.

If Pistol is on Disney+, will it be suitable for all the family?

Fackin’ no chance. You’ll be wanting to employ Disney+’s ‘robust parental controls’ and possibly double-check that your PIN number is unhackable by any little people in the area. The only thing PG about Pistol will be the teabags in the band’s dressing room. And there probably won’t be any of those either. 

Will there be a second season of Pistol?

Nope, it’s very much a limited series. Not that there isn’t more story to tell: Jones, now in his mid-sixties, is still going strong – though in California, not his hometown.

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