Sex, drugs and a Vi­cious cir­cle

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY



Di­rected by Alex Cox. Star­ring Gary Old­man, Chloe Webb, David Hay­man, Debby Bishop, An­drew Schofield, Xan­der Berke­ley, Perry Ben­son, Court­ney Love Club, IFI mem­bers, 114mins

Made just seven years after the star-crossed cou­ple of the ti­tle had died, Sid and Nancy emerged at a mo­ment when punk was still fresh in the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness. Its prox­im­ity to the his­tory it de­picts should not be un­der­stood as ve­rac­ity: the fa­mous taxi scene at the end of the movie demon­strates that writer-di­rec­tor Alex Cox was happy to fic­tion­alise and day­dream around the facts. John Ly­don, per­haps pre­dictably, was out­raged, claim­ing that “None [of the movie] bore any sense of re­al­ity”. He told Cox he should be shot and was par­tic­u­larly an­noyed by the film’s de­pic­tion of drug use.

In Ly­don’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Rot­ten: No Ir­ish, No Blacks, No Dogs, he writes: “I hon­estly be­lieve that it cel­e­brates heroin ad­dic­tion.”

Loath as we are to dis­agree with Ly­don, look­ing at Sid and Nancy now, some 30 years later, it’s im­pos­si­ble to think of it as glo­ri­fi­ca­tion. There is noth­ing ad­mirable or ro­man­tic in this por­trait of ad­dled, guile­less Sid Vi­cious (Gary Old­man), and his junkie-groupie hero­ine Nancy Spun­gen (Chloe Webb), though we do oc­ca­sion­ally pity them in their strung-out hell. These folks aren’t For­ever Young; they’re merely youth­ful corpses.

Un­pop­u­lar even within his own group – Sex Pis­tols drum­mer Paul Cook (Perry Ben­son) freezes in hor­ri­fied dis­be­lief when Sid sug­gests “But we’re the rhythm sec­tion” – the doomed bass gui­tarist finds an even more de­spised soul mate in Nancy, an Amer­i­can heroin ad­dict who has lately ar­rived in Lon­don with the ex­press pur­pose of bed­ding punk rock’s most fa­mous combo.

Cox’s drama­ti­sa­tion cuts be­tween the last days of Sid and Nancy – cul­mi­nat­ing in Nancy’s messy, hazy death in a squalid New York ho­tel room – and the hey­day of the punk scene. The film does rather bet­ter when it’s holed up be­tween fixes on the other side of the At­lantic, al­though, by then, nei­ther of the main char­ac­ters can be sure where they are: “I hate this fuck­ing life,” Nancy whines. “Things’ll be much bet­ter when we get to Amer­ica, I prom­ise,” Sid ex­plains. “We are in Amer­ica,” Nancy whines again.

Whin­ing is a ma­jor com­po­nent of Chloe Webb’s per­for­mance. In a noisy film char­ac­terised by shout­ing, swear­ing and snarling, her point­edly un­mu­si­cal vo­cal – not un­like a Lu­cille Ball w’ah with­out a comic punch­line – is the sound that re­calls Bride of Franken­stein star Ernest Theiger’s rec­ol­lec­tion of the Great War: “Oh, my dear, the noise! And the peo­ple!”

Made at a time when Bri­tish in­de­pen­dent films hardly ever looked like The The­ory of Ev­ery­thing or The King’s Speech, the great DOP Roger Deakins works hard to make cramped, dank in­te­ri­ors look cin­e­matic. Cox’s hu­mour, mean­while, com­pen­sates for the grim sub­ject mat­ter.

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