The spirit of punk runs rife through Sid and Nancy, a film that’s about as abrasive as the Sex Pistols themselves, and similarly inconsistent in quality.
The film picks up in 1977, with the legendary punk band at the height of their fame (though not necessarily fortune). Bassist Sid Vicious is already the least stable of a decidedly wobbly lot, only exacerbated by meeting and falling for American groupie Nancy Spungen. The pair’s tumultuous love affair, and rapidly spiralling drug use, leads to tensions within the band, an ill-fated American tour, and a disastrous attempt at a solo career for Vicious.
Beyond curiosity for Vicious and the band, the most compelling reason to watch Sid and Nancy, now celebrating its 30th anniversary, is to enjoy Gary Oldman’s breakout performance. Then 28, Sid and Nancy was his first major film role, and he hurls himself into it with reckless abandon. As Vicious, he’s all snarls and stumbles, approaching the world with a perpetual glare beneath a mop of spiky black hair. It’s a hugely physical performance, whether it’s capturing one of the couple’s fiery fights, the band’s legendary gigs, or simply one of his drugged-up lows.
Chloe Webb is less convincing as Nancy, and the film suffers the more it leans on her to do the dramatic heavy lifting. It’s a shrill, screechy performance that perfectly illustrates why the rest of the band hated her, but does little to ever explain why Sid might ever have fallen for her.
Naturally, the soundtrack is rife with some of the Sex Pistols’ classics, though their material is supplemented with original contributions from other punk and post-punk luminaries including The Pogues and Joe Strummer. This 30th anniversary restoration was supervised by cinematographer Roger Deakins, who’s since gone on to lens the likes of Skyfall and Sicario, and his work is excellent here, especially during the band’s performances, but also in capturing the run-down squalor of late-’70s New York in the film’s latter half.
There’s a compelling story of love, despair, and addiction in the brief but impactful love affair between Sid and Nancy, but Alex Cox’s film takes too long over much of it and hits the same notes too often – there’s only so many times you can watch the couple argue, take drugs, and make up before you yearn for variation – though Oldman’s performance makes a pretty compelling reason to put up with it.
Words by Dominic Preston