Hard to believe, but director Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy is thirty years young. His screenplay, co-written with Abbe Wool, divided people upon its initial release, with John Lydon (who else) dismissing it as ‘fantasy stuff… really depressing’, and the music press less than kind. The truth, however, is more complex. It doesn’t skimp on the gory details, beginning with Nancy Spungen’s death at the Chelsea Hotel in October 1978, with lover, Sex pistols bassist Sid Vicious still alive beside her, and spooling back to how she arrived in London as a groupie with Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, with the aim of ‘fucking a Sex Pistol’.
Chloe Webb, as Nancy, is compelling- veering between screeching nightmare, mother figure and utterly pathetic junkie. Gary Oldman’s Sid is equally fine-sweetly gormless, or swaggering. In the main, the pair are children- she has tantrums, he smashes things up- and they live out a pitiful existence, spiralling into a relationship fuelled as much by lust as, latterly, heroin addiction.
At times, Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography even seems to anticipate the Trainspotting way of shooting- it’s almost defiantly raw and unsentimental, rendering sweaty club scenes and squalor alike extremely vivid, with flashes of surrealism, like the wedding taxi and trash in the breeze sequence.
Excellent support too, comes from a subtle, insidious David Hayman as manager Malcolm McClaren, channelling his inner Machiavelli, and Kathy Burke as Brenda, the no-nonsense best pal, seemingly based on a composite of Bromley Contingent women like Su Catwoman and Siouxsie. Only Andrew Schofield disappoints, his Johnny Rotten mere caricature; a series of exclamation marks in place of a person.
A film with as much wit and tenderness as misery, it’s beautifully balanced. Cox has recently said he feels it’s ‘possibly too sentimental’, but the sexual energy and moments of tenderness between these two utterly lost young individuals means the downfall is even more affecting when it comes. The soundtrack by Pray for Rain and The Pogues is eerily gorgeous too. Not quite a masterpiece, then, but a poignant film which a new generation should find fascinating.
A new restored film is out in cinemas on August 5th on limited release, a new special edition of the DVD/Blu-ray follows on August 29th on Vintage Classics, StudioCanal.