Danny Boyle to direct Sex Pistols TV series

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

  • Published
John Lydon and Danny BoyleImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Boyle (bottom right) said the Sex Pistols changed British society and culture forever

Trainspotting director Danny Boyle is to make a six-part TV series about 1970s punk icons the Sex Pistols.

Based on guitarist Steve Jones's memoir, it will star Anson Boon (from 1917) as John Lydon and Louis Partridge (Enola Holmes) as Sid Vicious.

Game Of Thrones star Maisie Williams will also play Pamela Rooke, aka Jordan, who was one of the people credited with creating the punk look.

Filming is due to start in March for US TV network FX.

No UK broadcaster has been announced yet - but the company has a content partnership deal with the BBC, which has screened FX series like The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Atlanta and Feud: Bette and Joan.

Why the Sex Pistols?

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Sex Pistols at their final gig in 1978 (L-R): Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones

The Sex Pistols electrified British music and, depending on who you believed, threatened the very fabric of society at the tail end of the 1970s.

They may only have survived for two years, but their angry, nihilistic singles and violent performances changed the idea of what rock and roll could be.

Originally formed in 1972 by Jones and drummer Paul Cook, they were galvanized by the addition of John Lydon - aka Johnny Rotten - whose abrasive vocals and anti-establishment lyrics defined the band and, to a large extent, the British punk movement.

They only released one album, but the sheer sonic force of songs like Anarchy In The UK, God Save The Queen and Pretty Vacant became symbols of Britain's social and political turmoil, as youth unemployment soared, with young people particularly affected.

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Not that everyone was impressed by the Sex Pistols' curious combination of anger and apathy.

Their singles were blacklisted on the British charts and a record store manager was arrested and charged with obscenity for displaying their album cover. Facing bans across the UK, the group had to tour undercover as S.P.O.T.S. - "Sex Pistols on Tour Secretly".

Always on the verge of chaos, they finally split up on a US tour in 1978. "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" a tired and disillusioned Johnny Rotten asked the audience at their final show - but their legacy was ensured.

"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," said Boyle, announcing his new project.

"This is the moment that British society and culture changed forever. It is the detonation point for British street culture... where ordinary young people had the stage and vented their fury and their fashion…and everyone had to watch and listen".

What will the show cover?

Image caption,
Steve Jones now lives in LA and presents his own radio show

The series is based on Steve Jones's memoir, Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol; which doesn't just focus on his time with the band.

It begins in West London, where the young musician suffered maternal neglect and sexual abuse by a step-father, and quickly fell into crime - including an attempt to climb the chimneys of Battersea Power Station, and stealing amps from a David Bowie gig.

After becoming entranced by the glam rock scene, he is taken under the wings of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, who helped form, style and promote the Sex Pistols.

The book demystifies the band behind the myth - showing how they struggled with the criticisms lobbed their way and the pressure of living up to their image, including the moment Jones was goaded into swearing live on primetime TV.

Later chapters deal with his battles with addiction, and his recent reinvention as a tee-total "semi-retired sexual deviant who doesn't really act out so much any more".

Who'll be playing the Sex Pistols?

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The cast includes (L-R): Anson Boon, Maisie Williams and Toby Wallace

British-born, Australian-raised actor Toby Wallace will play Jones, following eye-catching roles in the coming-of-age drama Babyteeth and Netflix drama The Society, where he played evil teen Campbell Elliot.

Anson Boon, last seen in the Kate Winslet tear-jerker Blackbird takes on the spittle-flecked role of Johnny Rotten; while out-of-control bassist Sid Vicious will be played by Louis Partridge.

Sydney Chandler - daughter of film star Kyle - will become Pretenders star Chrissie Hynde, who had an affair with Jones at the height of the Sex Pistols' fame.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Williams' character was closely associated with the Sex Pistols and often appeared on-stage with them

The Witcher's Emma Appleton is cast as Nancy Spungen, the American girlfriend of Sid Vicious, who died in mysterious circumstances in October 1978.

And Game Of Thrones star Maisie Williams plays "the face of punk", the iconoclastic model and actress Pamela Rooke, whose signature style - ripped fishnets, dominatrix heels and raccoon-like eye make-up - defined the scene.

An onslaught of biopics

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Image caption,
Jennifer Hudson films a scene from Aretha in New York

The Sex Pistols project isn't the only musical series in the pipeline. Inspired by the success of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, the film and TV industry is snapping up the rights to all sorts of musicians' life stories, including:

  • Respect - anAretha Franklin biopic starring Jennifer Hudson, who was hand-picked for the role by the Queen Of Soul herself.
  • Elvis- Baz Luhrman's film sees Austin Butler filling Presley's blue suede shoes and Tom Hanks as the star's combative manager, Colonel Tom Parker.
  • Faithfull - The inside story of Marianne Faithfull's much-publicised relationship with Mick Jagger, with Lucy Boynton in the title role.
  • Untitled Madonna film - scripted and directed by Madonna herself, with the star promising it would depict her "struggle as an artist trying to survive in a man's world".
  • The United States vs Billie Holliday - which explores how the blues singer was targeted by the FBI over political messages in her music.
  • Teddy Pendergrass - Fast & Furious actor Tyrese Gibson will star as the 70s R&B singer, whose career was tragically cut short by a car accident.
  • Bob Marley - The star's son Ziggy is producing a film about the reggae legend's life for Paramount pictures.
  • The Power Of Love - Valérie Lemercier directs and stars in this French-language film inspired by the life and career of Celine Dion.

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