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Pirate Radio (European Title is The Boat That Rocked)
Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Sturridge, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Rhys Darby, Ralph Brown, Tom Brooke, Chris O’Dowd, Tom Wisdom, Ike Hamilton, Will Adamsdale, Katherine Parkinson and Kenneth Branaugh
Director/Scriptwriter: Richard Curtis
Composer: Steven Price
Music Supervisor: Nick Angel
Studio Canal/Working Title Films
Rating: R for language, violence, nudity and scenes of drug use
Running Length: 135 minutes
Great Britain in the 1960’s was a rocking country, or trying to be, that is. Rock and Roll was thought to be injurious to youth, who listened on the sly with whatever listening device they had---and wherever they were, school, work or home. Disk jockeys (reference: radio hosts) decided to take to the seas surrounding Europe and broadcast from there. This was a resounding hit for years and became known as "Pirate Radio." Great Britain wasn’t the only country to think Rock and Roll was taking youth down the drain, and pirate radio ships were also in the North Sea, influencing Europe and Scandinavia.
This film honors pirate radio with a story of rebellion, just plain verve, music, comradeship, love, drugs, sex, and more bravery than brains, sometimes. Quentin (Bill Nighy) reigns aboard the ship and his top DJ is American, The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman.) There are other radio personalities, too, and the camera goes from them to their audiences of young, beautiful women. Trouble is, the DJ’s aren’t much to look at and this is the cause of much humor in the film. Kenneth Branaugh as Dormany, is a government official who hates rock music and decides to shut pirate radio down. He will use any means necessary, even twisting existing laws to get his way and this with the help of his assistant Twatt (Jack Davenport). In the meantime, in order to boost ratings, Quentin brings back a past reigning king DJ (Rhys Ifans) and hence a duel between Hoffman and Ifans that goes from friendly to downward in a hurry. All of this with period rock music in the background. The observer here is Quentin’s godson, Carl (Tom Sturridge) who is on a break from school and ends up on the ship as an apprentice. A side story is Carl trying to find who his real father is and since Mom can’t remember who, it could be anyone.
Pirate Radio goes on a bit long and the ending seems tacked on, but I enjoyed the film for what it is---an homage to radio and music of that time and a carefree time it was. Europe was schooled in classical music and rock must have seemed a passing fad. When government became alarmed, they began passing laws to stop the music and ships. The government officials of the time were surprised over and over again. As one crew member says, “The government just can’t stand to see people happy.”
Copyright 2009 Marie Asner
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