Disney+ Debuts Sex Pistols Miniseries

Oscar-winner Danny Boyle helms a new drama about England's most notorious punk rockers

Oscar-winner Danny Boyle helms a new drama about England’s most notorious punk rockers 

Every iconic group has a legendary inception, and when it comes to British punk band the Sex Pistols, the tale is one that shakes an entire nation to its core. Based on original band member Steve Jones’ 2017 memoir, Lonely Boy, Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and series writer Craig Pearce tell a story of a rock ’n’ roll revolution, started by a band of working-class kids with no future who changed music, fashion and culture forever. 

Boyle, who was in his early 20s when the Sex Pistols were at their height, recalls the cultural shakeup in the mid-1970s. “One of the things that we did when we started was just talk about how incredibly dull Britain was,” says Boyle. “Our lives are so full now, but there was so little then. You felt like you were young and then you were old, and there was nothing in between.” 

PistolDisney+Indeed, the Pistols changed the expectations of an entire generation. “They were the fountainhead,” the director continues. “Nothing ever seemed to be the same again, especially for working-class people. It was like you didn’t just put your shoes on and follow your dad into the factory anymore. You could do whatever the f*** you want. That is proper counterculture, because it is an ignition point.” 

What also set the Sex Pistols apart from bands before them was their lack of musical proficiency. “They were supremely unqualified to do anything,” says Boyle. “They weren’t from art school, like The Beatles, for instance. They really were from the street. So, it was the triumph of street culture or counterculture, for sure.” 

Whatever the Pistols lacked in training, they made up for in brutal and uncomfortable honesty. “For me personally, the music always felt like it was the really raw expression of a class that was underserved and underrepresented,” says Toby Wallace, who portrays bassist and band co-founder Jones. “They expressed it in their own way from the streets, and that’s what everybody related to. Their music was so raw and rugged and they didn’t try to overcomplicate it. It felt very truthful.”  

PistolDisney+But even the Pistols evolved—musically, at least. 1917 actor Anson Boon, who plays John Lydon, better known as lead singer Johnny Rotten, admits the group’s genuine musical talent took him by surprise. “It might not be the conventional form of talent, but what they did was so unique and so impressive, I was just blown away by it,” he says. “A really good measure is, if you look at their first song, ‘Lazy Sod,’ it is three guitar chords, and then you look at one of their last songs, ‘Holiday in the Sun,’ there are two key changes. That progression, as an actor, was amazing to explore.”  

Of course, counterculture also has its dark side, in this case epitomized by the chaotic love story of Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge) and Nancy Spungen (Emma Appleton). Both were severely addicted to drugs and Vicious died from an overdose at 21. “We very much deal, in a human way, with Nancy and Sid and their descent into a kind of junkie Romeo and Juliet tragedy,” says Pearce. “The series does darken as it goes along.”  

On that note, the show makes sure to shine a light on the women in the band members’ lives: a pre-Pretenders Chrissie Hynde (Sydney Chandler) trying to find her place as a singer, rebellious clothing designer Vivienne Westwood (Talulah Riley) and, of course, the controversial Spungen, who was stabbed to death at 20. “Instead of slightly mythological creatures, as they could be regarded in history, they are fully rounded people, and it’s all anchored in human emotion,” says Appleton. “Bringing those elements to the story was the most exciting bit. Seeing them as real people and the relationships that they have, it was all there on the page for us to grab hold of and really delve into.” PistolDisney+

In creating a series in 2022 about the cultural disruption of the punk rock scene, Boyle and his team tried to disobey filmmaking norms, and channel the Pistols’ provocative band manager, Malcolm McLaren (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), in his quest for upheaval. “What we were trying to do was create a kind of chaos and constantly contradict the order of things, and that out of that chaos, something would be born. I think that was Malcolm’s philosophy, and Vivienne’s as well, that this chrysalis would emerge out of the burning destruction, and that it would be newly forged and worth something,” says Boyle, adding that culture should always challenge the order of things. In that spirit, Boyle fully expects Lydon to challenge his vision of the Sex Pistols saga. “We just know he will. And we love him for that, actually. It is that contrary nature that is the source of a wonderful touch of genius, really. It’s something very, very special.”  

Pistol premieres Tuesday, May 31st on Disney+