SID AND NANCY, 1986
Starring: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, David Hayman, Debbie Bishop, Xander Berkeley, Perry Benson, Sy Richardson
A biographical film following the tumultuous relationship of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, which ended with their violent deaths in 1979.
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Malcolm McLaren, opportunistic manager of the Sex Pistols, once said that if John Lydon was the voice of punk, Sid Vicious was the attitude. Rowdy, uncouth, possessing an almost childlike mentality that belied an innocent soul, Vicious didn't even know how to play the bass guitar when he was drafted into the Pistols. There's a good chance he would never have met Nancy Spungen, an American groupie, if he hadn't been a member of the band. Spungen had originally had her sights set on frontman Lydon, but when he rebuked her she quickly fell into the arms of the wild yet strangely attractive "bassist."
Sid and Nancy follows the sordid path their relationship took, from the slums of London where Spungen introduced Vicious to heroin all the way to the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, where Nancy was stabbed to death. Director Alex Cox is no stranger to the punk, having also helmed cult classics such as Repo Man (1984) and Straight To Hell (1987), bringing a rough and ready style to this low budget tale of love gone horribly wrong.
While one can't say the entire cast shines (John Schofield and David Hayman, who play John Lydon and Malcolm McLaren respectively, often come off as thin impersonations), the leads hold the film together with remarkable skill. In one of his earliest film roles Gary Oldman shows that his incredible acting talent was there from the start. He infuses an innocence into Sid Vicious that makes him far more sympathetic than one could have expected. Oldman takes a living caricature who was known for throwing pint glasses into crowds and slicing up his chest with a razor blade and turns him into a fully-formed human being with terrible emotional issues and a weird sweetness that was undoubtedly his saving grace on more than one occasion. We open with Sid sitting on the edge of his bed, covered in Nancy's blood, in total shock as the police take him away for questioning. Shaking in fear, trying to hold a cigarette steady between his fingers, it is a far cry from the wild man we see later on, but Oldman is able to veer between the many sides of Vicious to give us an aspect of who the real man was.
Chloe Webb has an equally difficult task, if not more so, portraying a woman who was largely derided by British punks and blamed for Sid's heroin addiction. This isn't entirely unfair - she was with Vicious when he first shot up - but since heroin was proving increasingly popular in the punk scene, there's a chance Sid would have come across the drug eventually. If anything, Nancy's life is even more tragic than that of her punk rocker boyfriend. Shacking up with any musician who'll give her drugs and money, estranged from her mother and unable to fit in with civilised society, Spungen cuts an almost pathetic figure. Webb's job is to make this loud, insecure, bottle blonde airhead seem likeable, and while it can be argued whether she did or not, one can't fault her attempt. This was also her cinematic debut, but having worked in theatre she is more than able to hold her own against Oldman's terrific performance.
While technically Sid and Nancy is nothing to write home about, its rough-hewn style fits the story being told. It bears none of the flash or glamour of Eighties Hollywood fare, and is all the better for it. London is a damp, grey nothing; New York is crumbling apart. All the while, Sid and Nancy play out their sordid love affair, the viewer knowing that it can only end tragically in such places.
Nancy died from a single stab wound in October 1978. Though Sid was arrested, he never made it to trial, dying from a heroin overdose in February 1979. Whether he was actually Nancy's killer isn't certain - his own recollection of the night was confusing, and some close to the couple blamed local dealers trying to steal drugs. Cox takes the position that Vicious did kill Nancy, stabbing her with a knife in one of their many violent arguments, neither of them aware that she was bleeding until it was too late. It is a fitting finale to a chaotic romance that has gone down in music history and become shorthand for every abusive relationship since. Sid and Nancy is a depressing account of two broken people searching desperately for acceptance. "Love kills" reads the tagline - but Vicious and Spungen were already lost long before they reached the Chelsea Hotel.