Former Sex Pistol’s frontman John Lydon isn’t the first person you’d go to for a film recommendation, though you’d think he’d be a person of authority when it comes to anything music-related. With that being said, he’s previously noted The Color Purple and The Lion in Winter, starring Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn as two of his very favourites, so he clearly has good taste. One film he won’t be won’t be recommending, however, is the biopic of his own friend Sid Vicious, in Alex Cox’s 1986 film Sid and Nancy.
Delving into the mysterious, enigmatic and rather tragic story of the rebellious figurehead of the landmark punk band, Sid and Nancy deconstructs the life of John Simon Ritchie, known professionally as Sid Vicious. Cox’s film peers into Vicious’ turbulent relationship with the band as well as his volatile relationship with lover Nancy Spungen, crafting an intense and visceral love story spiked by the realities of fame.
Casting frenetic character actor Gary Oldman in the lead role, Alex Cox originally wanted Daniel Day-Lewis to play Vicious, but was convinced by Oldman after seeing him play the lead role in Edward Bond’s The Pope’s Wedding. Turning down the role twice before accepting it, despite the actor’s outstanding central performance, he was unsure of the role at first. Speaking to a Playboy interview in 2014, the actor commented: “I wasn’t really that interested in Sid Vicious and the punk movement. I’d never followed it. It wasn’t something that interested me. The script I felt was banal and ‘who cares’ and ‘why bother’ and all of that”.
According to John Lydon, however, Cox and Oldman can’t have been that interested in properly depicting the life of Vicious, as they did not properly consult Lydon and the rest of the band. Reporting in his 1994 autobiography, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, Lydon comments: “I cannot understand why anyone would want to put out a movie like Sid and Nancy and not bother to speak to me; Alex Cox, the director, didn’t. He used as his point of reference – of all the people on this earth – Joe Strummer! That guttural singer from The Clash? What the fuck did he know about Sid and Nancy?”.
Continuing, Lydon had some strong words about Cox’s film, noting, “To me this movie is the lowest form of life. I honestly believe that it celebrates heroin addiction”. Worse still, Lydon is bitter towards the depiction of his own character in the film, explaining, “He had a Scouse accent. Worse, there’s a slur implied in the movie that I was jealous of Nancy, which I find particularly loathsome”.
Acknowledging Lydon’s hatred as “understandable, given that it was based on incidents from his life and centred around one of his friends,” in an interview on his personal website, reports suggest that drummer Paul Cook was even angrier at the film than Lydon. According to the director, however, both he and Andrew Schofield, who depicted Lydon in the film, did meet with the real-life frontman before production to discuss the details of Lydon’s personality. Director Alex Cox claims that Lydon drank heavily in these meetings, suggesting that this may be why he doesn’t remember them.
Clearly a spiky, contentious subject in a later interview on Dr Drew, Lydon was asked, “Did the movie get anything right?” to which he replied: “Maybe the name Sid”.