Alex Cox’s biopic charts the downward spiral of a doomed relationship against the background of punk and the Sex Pistols.
Anarchy in the USby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Rereleased to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the beginning of punk, Alex (Repo Man) Cox’s reimagination of the romance of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen strives for authenticity but doesn’t always achieve it. The London scenes can seem rather sanitised, the punks too clean and the drug scoring too wholesome. The Sex Pistols were the most famous punk group in London at that time in the Seventies, and they were responsible for inspiring a generation. As prime mover Johnny Rotten (now going by his real name of John Lydon), Andrew Schofield doesn’t master his characteristic mischievous snarly delivery, and his performance portrays him as a lumpen yob, sadly lacking his trademark quicksilver wit and intelligence. David Hayman, as the Sex Pistols’ ingenious Svengali Malcolm McLaren, seems muted and dull.
The film starts with the Sex Pistols’ untalented bass player Sid meeting American wannabe groupie Nancy in the London flat of unconvincing dominatix Linda (Anne Lambton). It’s the start of the mutually dependent and ultimately destructive relationship that the film charts, culminating in Nancy’s death from stabbing in New York’s notorious Chelsea Hotel. In between these two ill-fated events, together Sid and Nancy sink further and further into a mutual heroin addiction. Sid (a vulnerable, explosive Gary Oldman) is portrayed as immature and easily led by the more forceful Nancy (manipulative Chloe Webb), who eventually makes herself his manager, persuading him that he can have a solo career. Their relationship is a blur of vomiting, fighting, watching rubbishy TV shows in bed and shooting up in filthy rooms. There’s a scene of them kissing compulsively in an alley as rubbish cascades all around them.
But Sid and Nancy is a fascinating record of a volatile period in music history. Though the true story of what happened in that bloody hotel room will never be known because Sid Vicious died of a drug overdose before his trial for Nancy’s murder, the film provides background and insights into an unusual love story and a seminal musical era. There are fleeting cameos by icons Courtney Love, Iggy Pop and a small part for a young Kathy Burke. This rerelease is a new restoration supervised by cinematographer Roger Deakins, marking the 30th anniversary of the film’s original release.
Sid and Nancy is rereleased in the UK on 5 August 2016, available on EST on 22 August and in a new special edition DVD/Blu-ray on 29 August.