Release: 29th August 2016
Format: BR / DVD
It’s 1977 and The Sex Pistols have taken the music world by storm with lead singer Johnny Rotten (Andrew Schofield) and bass guitarist Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) enjoying all the spoils that fame and money have to offer. Vicious embarks on a relationship with an American groupie – Nancy (Chloe Webb) – who has come to London to pursue him but the couple’s increasing drug use frays relationships with Johnny and the rest of the band.
Alex Cox’s grubby snapshot of music history’s more troublesome love stories was and still is an uneven beast that fails to fully capture the true nature of its focus. Like the punk movement itself, Sid and Nancy is a film that seems to rebuke forms and conscious narrative in favour of wild nihilistic rambles with an ever-so political edge.
There are three great things that came out of Sid and Nancy’s relative success. Gary Oldman, Roger Deakins and a pervading sense that the punk music scene had really developed into something beyond swearing, farting and flicking Her Maj the v-sign. Alex Cox’s biopic suggests that everything Sid Vicious stood for was way out of line with what The Sex Pistols represented. Sid and Nancy is an educated punk’s way of creating some serious distance from a very public figure. But more than this, it is also a very sympathetic ode to the destruction of someone who could have been the poster boy for a huge cultural shift. The message of Sid and Nancy is sex and drugs are the antithesis of rock n’ roll.
The film’s restoration is, for lack of a better word, severely wasted. The original print has been tinkered with to a point where digital grain encroaches massively on the image; you’d almost think that someone purposely wanted to avoid the sheen of commercial production – how very meta. It’s like watching the movie through a wasps nest. Deakins’s cinematography still manages to stand out, with its mix of vertie grunge and ethereal hyper-realism. Aside from Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb’s searing performances, there are three distinct moments when Sid and Nancy slides into rock solid beauty. The performance of ‘My Way’ is Kubrickian perfection, the alleyway snog is intoxicating beauty and the infamous death scene has a harrowing poetry to it that comes unexpectedly from leftfield. Cox’s choice to end his film in some sort of purgatorial pathway to eternal bliss feels less hammy in a modern context, but still seems utterly contrary to the film’s entire obsession with the destructive relationship Vicious and Spungen shared. Vicious seemingly has two loves in the film, his unruly wife and pizza. In the final moments, he gets both.
Sid and Nancy was obviously the roaring emergence of Gary Oldman, and that history is still very much at play. The film is not so much carried by his portrayal of Vicious, but strapped to his back and driven at 90mph downhill. But you could argue that this is as much Nancy’s story as it is Sid’s. And Webb delivers in spades. How she went from what could now be considered a career best, to playing naïve love interests in 80’s comedies is a bigger crime than the actual murder of the character she plays. Webb’s performance as Spungen is a rare treat of obscene ugliness and tragic vulnerability that audiences long for. She is the cinematic equivalent of Courtney Love (who, ironically appears in the film), long before Love took up the mantle of Kurt Cobain’s ‘ruin’. She is a doped-up lioness, a predatory loser who not only (according to Cox’s film) poisons Vicious with drugs, but also poisons his soul; continually drawing him away from the music that could keep him wholesome. She is Lady Macbeth on skag.
Looking more than a little dated, and with a central message about the purity of punk being forceful in all the wrong ways, Sid and Nancy is a wonderful time capsule of an angry and purposeful Britain. But more over it is a tragic love story that happily places huge chunks of blame on one particular party. Sid and Nancy deserves a happy 30th, but like the surviving members of punk’s 2nd generation, all those years of living mercilessly have aged it terribly.
Film Grade: B-
Three Interviews of varying quality. Deakins offering a few annecdotes and Don Letts spending a lot of time referring to himself in the 3rd person.
Special Features Grade: C-
The film deserves a much better quality of transfer. It is a quality generating the wrong kind of noise. But with two riproaring performance, you almost forget it is there.