Sid and Nancy 30th Anniversary Edition
Directed by Alex Cox
Written by Alex Cox & Abbe Wool
Cast – Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, David Hayman, Debby Bishop, Andrew Schofield, Courtney Love, Xander Berkeley, Perry Benson, Tony London, Barbara Coles, Iggy Pop & Kathy Burke
Alex Cox’s 1986 depiction of the life, love, and self-destruction of Sex Pistol’s bassist Sid Vicious and his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen will be re-released in cinemas on 5th August, then available to buy on DVD/Blu-ray from 29th August. Newly restored under acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film is a visceral portrayal of the seventies punk explosion and a harrowing account of addiction, anchored by two incredible central performances.
Opening in October 1978 with Sid’s (Oldman) arrest in New York City, the film then flashes back to his entry into the Sex Pistols and introduction to Nancy (Webb) in the chaos of the London punk scene. The first half deals with iconic figures like John Lydon (Schofield) and Malcolm McLaren (Hayman) as Sid is prioritised over the rest of the band, despite his lack of musical ability and increasing dependence on Heroin derailing their tour, while the second focuses on the couple’s dynamic as their drug fuelled world narrows to a room in the Chelsea Hotel.
Gary Oldman, in his big screen debut, is fantastic as Sid. The then 28 year old actor is completely believable as the 21 year old punk, perfectly capturing the volatility and sneer of his public identity, while also communicating a vulnerability and helplessness in his private moments with Nancy. Chloe Webb is equally excellent at retaining a degree of sympathy for a largely unlikeable character whose chaotic personality grates, like it should, but her insecurity and self-loathing also come through in more intimate scenes with Oldman. Both actors, aged 28 and 30, really bring out the sense of wasted youth in their performances, though there is a degree of softening these characters from the more abrasive real life figures.
Visually the film is rich with period detail and does a great job of juxtaposing the energy of Sex Pistol’s gigs with the deprivation of their home life. However, it is in the second half, once the couple transfers to New York, that the use of location really comes to life. The iconic poster image of Sid and Nancy kissing in a trash strewn alley is an example of the poetic use of the city throughout, charting their descent, literally, to the bottom floor of the Chelsea Hotel. That location is fully realised, and poignantly depicts the isolation and squalor of life in the grip of Heroin, before the divisive final scene which detracts slightly from the realism immediately before.
This tendency to undercut the bleakness of the characters and their true story is arguably the biggest weakness of the film, though at times it works as a strength. Director Alex Cox acknowledges this in a refreshingly candid interview on the new DVD, but makes the fair point that the film is not a literal retelling but a hybrid of realism and romantic fantasy, which makes sense. To be completely restricted to gritty truth would rob the film of some of the more striking visual flourishes, but the very last scene is an unfortunately sentimental note on which to end the story, but not enough to remove the power of the last scene in the hotel.
Sid and Nancy is well worth watching on its re-release. For new viewers it is one of the best depictions of the punk scene that, while not wholly accurate in events and characterisation, explores the human frailty behind those iconic images. For those already familiar with the film this is an opportunity to view it in restored form, on the big screen or remastered DVD, and to appreciate a tragic story told through two brilliant lead performances.
Showing in Cinemas from 5th August.
Available on DVD/Blu-ray from 29th August.
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