Sid And Nancy, from director Alex Cox, celebrates its thirtieth birthday this year with a newly restored Blu-Ray and DVD release which is preceded by a limited run in cinemas. This was a film that I caught in the cinemas the first time around and remember being impressed with the style and the story line at the time. Having not seen it since the new version was a good excuse to revisit it. The question being. Would it still stand up today?
The film opens at the end of the story. Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) is sitting, almost comatose, on his bed in a room in the famous Chelsea hotel. He is smeared with the blood of his deceased girlfriend Nancy (Chloe Web). As the police start to question him the film drifts off to where the story began. At the height of Punk in 1977, the Sex Pistols were the most notorious of all the bands. Sid Vicious had just been drafted into the band as the bass player due to his appearance rather than any musical talent. Sid meets Nancy when he is searching for drugs. This soon gives way to a relationship developing. As the band reaches their peak and subsequently falls apart Sid and Nancy become ever closer and co-dependant as their casual drug use takes on a more sinister aspect. Relocating to New York in order to kick start a solo career the couple fall deeper into a living hell of drug abuse that will end with tragic consequences.
There are a lot of liberties taken with the telling of this story. Rather than going down the road of the straight biography, Alex Cox has chosen instead to take elements of the truth and made it into the story he wants on the screen. It is essentially a movie of two parts. The first half is the based in London and sees Sid, Nancy and the rest of the band on the up. There is always a darker undercurrent but it is held in check for the first hour. They live in squalor but their lives are fun and there are always people around. It is chaotic but has a certain vibrancy to it. A real gang spirit as they are in it together.
When the band splits after a disastrous US tour the tone of the film becomes even darker. There are fewer people around and the ones that are there are not particularly pleasant. For most of the second half of the film it is in fact just the relationship between Sid and Nancy that is the focus. Their downward spiral of drug use and their disregard for themselves becomes all we see. Sid cuts himself in order to feel something and Nancy starts a fire in their room which they view almost abstractly until the fire fighters arrive.
Gary Oldman is outstanding in his first major role for the screen. He perfectly captures the man behind the image. In public the character of Sid was a loud and over the top nihilist. Underneath he was hopelessly lost. With nothing to work towards he focused his time and energies on drugs. The performance shows off both sides of this character with some style. For a man who was all about excess this is a restrained screen performance from an actor who is willing to go big.
Unfortunately some of the other characters do not have quite the same presence. The character of Nancy is a shrill and annoying screen presence. I know she is supposed to be divisive, but she comes across as being a bit shallow. There is no depth to her at all which probably was not true in real life. The rest of the cast is no better served. The John Lydon character is a sneering, spitting nothing. He serves as a plot device and only has a minimal impact on the film.
The film is beautifully shot as is the norm from Roger Deakins. The best scene in the film is where Sid and Nancy are pictured in an alley. As they kiss the light shines on them from behind. A fountain of rubbish slowly falls all around them. It emphasises the bond between them and also the fact that they are alone. They seem to be living in a dream. It’s well on its way to going sour.