The new Sex Pistols film-in-the-making, news of which has punks young and old abuzz, has a name: “Only Anarchists Are Pretty.” The writer and producer of the project tell Variety that they are setting about getting the picture financed ahead of casting their Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten et al.
Producer Ayesha Plunkett is making the film through her recently formed Starlight banner. She said reports that it will be a straight-up biopic are wide of the mark. “It’s not a biopic. I’m not interested in doing that,” she said. “It’s a feature film, a script written from a book I liked by Mick O’Shea.”
O’Shea’s “The Early Days of the Sex Pistols: Only Anarchists Are Pretty” was published in 2004, and he wrote the screenplay, with input from Plunkett. As was the case with the book, it fictionalizes the events of the day, while sticking to the facts in terms of what the main players were doing and when.
“The only non-factual element is my putting words into their mouths, but the dialogue is in context with what was happening around them,” O’Shea, who has written several books on the British punk scene, said.
The book begins when John Lydon – Johnny Rotten – joins the band in August 1975 and spans the period through to the Sex Pistols’ famous expletive-ridden appearance on Bill Grundy’s “Today” show in December 1976.
But the producers wanted the band’s 1977 trip down the river Thames to be in the movie, so O’Shea’s screenplay covers a different period.
“We decided to do the six-month period from them going on the ‘Today Show’ to the release of ‘God Save the Queen’ and the trip down the river – that is the six months in which they were public enemy number one,” he explains.
The screenplay addresses the backlash following the “Today Show” appearance and recounts the Pistols getting sacked by EMI, winning and then losing a U.S. record deal with A&M, and signing with Richard Branson’s Virgin, which released “God Save the Queen.” Branson and his war of wills with Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren will be featured in the film. It also takes in Sid Vicious joining the group and Glen Matlock leaving.
But the film could face a backlash of its own. A tweet from Lydon’s official account made clear that this is not the official take on the Pistols’ story. A previous film treatment of the band left Lydon cold, according to O’Shea. “’Sid and Nancy’ presented the band as illiterate buffoons, and that’s a big part of John’s reticence to get involved with any other Pistols-related projects,” he said.
It is not clear how the rest of the surviving members of the band feel, but, as with another music film in the works, David Bowie feature “Stardust,” it is unlikely to have any of the featured artists’ tracks from the time. A previous effort to license “God Save the Queen” to Netflix for “The Crown” failed. The band is fiercely protective of the rights to its music and its story.
Several directors have been in the frame so far, but none has yet signed on. O’Shea and Plunkett say they plan to approach one who has an association with the band, and have another actor-director in mind as well. Entertainment accountants Alliots are working on the project, but the finance is not yet in place for the picture, which will have a budget in the £2 million to £4 million range ($2.6 million to $5.2 million).