I don’t think I’ve laughed so much at any movie in a theater as I did at Pirate Radio. (Known as The Boat That Rocked in its original UK release.)
Like Richard Curtis’ other feature as writer/director, Love Actually, it’s a sprawling story with a variety of goofy character bits, an ensemble comedy composed of vignettes. I was also reminded of Almost Famous, with its story of a boy coming of age thanks to the transformative power of rock. Pirate Radio is set in England in 1966, with tons of great rock’n’roll music (then called pop), none of which the BBC would play. So ships anchored off the coast, outside of the legal limit, would broadcast what the people wanted to hear. (One of the best-known was Radio Caroline.)
The cast is amazing — you’ve probably seen ads featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman as one of the DJs, but another is played by Nick Frost (previously best known as Simon Pegg’s buddy in Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead). Additional cast members include Chris O’Dowd and Katherine Parkinson, both from The IT Crowd. My favorite, of course, was Bill Nighy as Quentin, who in addition to his performance is astounding-looking in 60s mod suits, especially when he dances. (Given the time period and setting, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that the women are Mom, cook, and lust objects. But at least the clothes they wear are cool.) I was also surprised to see that the coolest of all DJs, a supposed sex machine, was played by Rhys Ifans, whom I best remember from the Curtis-penned Notting Hill as the gross roommate Spike. That’s versatility!
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Nick Frost are DJs
Now, typical of Curtis, the end favors optimism and unrealistic happy results over plausibility, but I don’t mind that much. I did leave wishing I’d seen the three-hour version (or however long it would have been with the footage they cut from the UK version put back in along with whatever other deleted scenes — something to wait for the DVD on, I guess). I felt like I could have learned more about some of the characters, and there were intriguing bits hinted at (like Jack Davenport’s interaction with his boss Kenneth Branagh’s daughter) that were never followed up on. That’s another Curtis touch, overstuffed, messy sprawl, but in a way I enjoy.
Rhys Ifans as King of the DJs
I’m telling you, theaters are missing out by not selling merchandise in their lobbies. I would have gladly purchased, upon departure, the DVD and the CD soundtrack. (Plus a couple of books on the subject, although there doesn’t appear to be a definitive history yet.) A vending machine would make extra money with minimal staff costs. And the DVD is already out in the UK, because the movie came out there in April. I have no idea why they’d rather sell messy snacks, with all the cleaning costs, than tangible mementos.
Bill Nighy and cast party
Sadly, while researching options, we discovered that there are two soundtrack versions. The British version has four more tracks than the American one, although the four missing songs (“Crimson & Clover”, “The Letter”, “Hang on Sloopy”, and Skeeter Davis’ “End of the World”) are fairly common. Personally, I think the UK one also has a better cover, but I like seeing more of the cast without the overly literal pirate metaphor.
If you’re looking for a wonderfully entertaining movie, check out Pirate Radio. Highly recommended.
I love my husband, because he just handed me this CD collection, We Love the Pirates, featuring rare music and hits from the era interspersed with jingles from Radio London, another of the pirate stations. Apparently, it’s now out of print and goes for $50 or more. For a cheaper take on the era, try The Who Sell Out, an homage to the broadcast style with commercial parodies and actual jingles.