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Sid & Nancy written and directed by Alex Cox and based on punk rock icon Sid Vicious’ relationship with Nancy Spungen, is a beautifully somber and tragic love story brought to life by a pair of fantastic lead performances.
When it comes to biopics, too many people feel the need to question their historical authenticity. After all, these types of movies are meant to dramatize real life events, which is why cries of ‘that’s not how it happened’ seem a bit silly. They could be absolutely correct, but they are also missing the point. Biopics are far more interested in telling a story than they are informing the audience and shouldn’t really be judged for their accuracy. Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb felt like real people here. Their dysfunctional downwards spiral of a relationship rings true, regardless of how closely it sticks to the facts. When they are together on screen, Sid & Nancy comes to life.
Even without the framing device, which makes it abundantly clear their story ends in tragedy right from the start, there’s a noticeable melancholy to Sid & Nancy. It’s punctuated by occasional bursts of manic energy and characterized by a fantastic soundtrack, but there’s a sadness that’s seeped into everything.
I don’t believe Sid & Nancy really understands punk; it pities its. Fortunately, it’s far more interested in the central relationship that it is deconstructing punk, which it certainly doesn’t feel suited for. If you go into Sid & Nancy trying to learn something about Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, you are setting yourself up for disappointment – not because the movie is inaccurate, for which it has been criticized for, but because that was never its intent.
One of the more noticeable problems with the movie is uneven performances from the rest of the cast. No one is really bad, but with some you will feel acutely aware you are watching a character instead of a person. Andrew Schofield as lead singer John Lydon best embodies this. His performance is fine, but feels too constructed, too detached and that becomes all the more apparent when he has scenes opposite Oldman as Vicious.
The cinematography is gorgeous and works best when the movie almost completely separates itself from reality and instead embraces the surreal – a shot of Sid and Nancy in silhouette, kissing in an alley as garbage just falls from above is eerily memorable and symbolic.
Not everything about Sid & Nancy works, but the relationship at the heart of it does. Whether you see it as a cautionary tale of the dangers of drug abuse or the heartbreaking story of two lovers who are their own worst enemy, Sid & Nancy is more than likely to strike a chord.
It’s an emotionally resonant movie bolstered by excellent performances – this restoration by acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins will be released in cinemas on the August 5 in the UK and on DVD and Blu-Ray on the 29th, in honor of the movie’s 30th anniversary.
• Interview with Cinematographer Roger Deakins
• Interview with Director Alex Cox
• Interview with Don Letts (Director, DJ and presenter of ‘Punk on Film’ at the BFI: Southbank)