PIRATE RADIO ****
PIRATE RADIO is a madcap fictionalized version of actual events that happened forty years ago.
The golden age of rock and roll was part of a tumultuous, spectacular, death defying decade where boundaries and barriers were kicked down and eventually became obsolete.
It started when The Beatles came to America in 1964 and ended when the legendary group broke up in 1970.
It was only six short years…
There have been some brilliant musicians, fantastic singers and incredible bands since. But nothing has ever matched that short span of mindblowing creativity…and much of it originally came out of the UK.
In spite of the fact that British music was an unstoppable force to be reckoned with, very little rock and pop were played by the BBC in that particular time frame. Unfortunately, it was the only choice available.
This is a strange ironic twist of fate. English music was exploding the pop cultural myths and transforming the artistic landscape irrevocably. It was a magical time that has yet to be duplicated.
But people in the UK could only listen to a few short hours of it on an extremely limited basis.
In response to that, pirate radio evolved (with a vengeance) around the middle of the decade. A number of impromptu radio stations played music from boats anchored just outside of the three mile limit of English territorial waters.
They broadcast 24/7 and brought these amazing sounds to an eagerly anticipating public.
So that was how it all began…
The film opens and closes with the immensely passionate and appropriate anthem ALL DAY & ALL OF THE NIGHT by THE KINKS.
CARL (TOM STURRIDGE) is 18. His mother is rather concerned about him.
Though still relatively innocent in the ways of the world (he attended the prototypical British boys’ school so he has no experience with girls), he was caught smoking dope and expelled.
His formidable parent decides to take matters into her own hands. He is sent to stay with his godfather QUENTIN (BILL NIGHY), a droll, elegant, marvelously stylish hipster. What Carl’s mother is completely unaware of is that Quentin’s abode is a pirate radio boat floating in the North Sea.
Carl is quickly introduced to the motley gang of rabble rousers.
There’s THE COUNT (PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN), the preeminent radio jock and leader of the pack. He is also the lone American.
JOHN “ON THE HOUR” MAYFORD (WILL ADAMSDALE) is a quiet, serious sort who lives for news and weather. THICK KEVIN (TOM BROOKE) is actually not that dense at all – especially after he’s knocked back a few.
FELICITY (KATHERINE PARKINSON) is the resident cook who takes all of the braggadocio and male bonding in stride. She’s oblivious to the various flirtations and attention from the men because she’s gay.
(It was awesome that she had her own story arc and that time was devoted to her romantic life. Kudos to the filmmakers for that kind of progressiveness.)
Then there are the other DJs…
DAVE (NICK FROST) can’t help being carefree and sloppy. ANGUS NUTSFORD (RHYS DARBY) is a bearded eccentric imp who smokes a pipe. SIMON STAFFORD (CHRIS O’DOWD), sweetly naive as he is, believes fervently in true love. He gets more than he ever bargained for. BOB SILVER (RALPH BROWN) happens to be a reclusive British version of TOMMY CHONG.
And then there’s MIDNIGHT MARK (TOM WISDOM), the sexiest man alive. He’s a combination of HEATH LEDGER and JIM MORRISON poured into tight black leather pants.
This wild graceless apple cart is close to upending when ultrafamous radio announcer extraordinaire GAVIN CAVANAGH (RHYS IFANS) decides to join them.
Dressed flamboyantly in a purple jacket and plumed hat, he struts onto the boat with JUMPIN JACK FLASH by THE ROLLING STONES roaring in the background. He is clearly the coolest man in the known universe.
As alpha males, he and The Count are on a natural collision course. But they both back off only to clash magnificently again over someone else’s honour.
Once that’s settled, there are more difficulties on the way.
SIR ALISTAIR DORMONDY (KENNETH BRANAGH) and his toffee nosed attache (JACK DAVENPORT) are ragingly conservative and think that the world around them is going straight to hell.
They want the ship shut down. The fact that people worship these men (and that the number of listeners is phenomenal – averaging over 20 million per day) is immaterial. They are destroying civilization and they must be stopped.
Sir Alistair has flashes of dark humour where he doesn’t seem quite so constipated. It appeared (despite his scary exterior) that he might actually side with them at some point or at least concede that what they were doing was important.
But, in the end, he turns out to be an outrageously bitter bastard – an evil, uncaring, utterly ruthless bureaucrat.
The dynamics at play are fun to watch. The less evolved, more aggressive males are up to their asses in women. (Females are allowed to visit the boat every other Saturday.) They’re eager to take advantage of their popularity as rock and roll hedonists.
But the shier and more sensitive types busy themselves chatting, reading and playing cards. They’re waiting for something more substantial.
It’s an even split.
PIRATE RADIO is actually a film originally titled THE BOAT THAT ROCKED. It was previously shown in the UK as a slightly longer version.
This particular cut that was prepared for viewing stateside is a bit of a mess. But it’s a particularly glorious one.
Written and directed by RICHARD CURTIS, it doesn’t have a plot so much as interconnected vignettes that push the story forward.
However, there is some serious method to its madness.
The costumes (lots of velvet and over the top extravagance) and the songs definitely add to its lavish mod authenticity.
And that music…
Here is a partial list of artists and their timeless work that are played in the movie: WOULDN’T IT BE NICE (THE BEACH BOYS), LET’S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER (THE ROLLING STONES), SUNNY AFTERNOON (THE KINKS), FRIDAY ON MY MIND (THE EASYBEATS), ELEANORE (THE TURTLES), WITH A GIRL LIKE YOU (THE TROGGS), CRIMSON & CLOVER (TOMMY JAMES & THE SHONDELLS), YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME (DUSTY SPRINGFIELD), SUNSHINE SUPERMAN (DONOVAN), FOR YOUR LOVE (THE YARDBIRDS), THIS GUY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU (HERB ALPERT), NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN (THE MOODY BLUES)…
Most of the performances range from solid to superb.
BILL NIGHY is an absolute delight. QUENTIN is an adorable mix of savoir faire and archness. He’s a distinguished gentleman of leisure.
RHYS IFANS was a bold surprise. He’s mainly played goofballs, jackasses and eccentrics. Sometimes simultaneously…
But he is so self composed, blissfully arrogant and blatantly charming as GAVIN that he is entirely unrecognizable as anything but this deliciously randy provocative character. His body language, manner and speaking voice are totally different…and he’s brimming with silky charisma.
It’s extremely impressive acting.
And of course PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN is exceptional as THE COUNT. He is profoundly soulful and majestic. Plus he has the moves down cold. If you’ve ever listened to any recordings of those DJs back in the day, then you immediately understand that he fully grasped the idealism and excess of the times.
PIRATE RADIO does have some very minor flaws. But it’s such an intense enthusiastic crowd pleaser that it easily transcends them all.
You genuinely care about these characters. The film is filled with infectious joy and the spirit of youthful rebellion.
It’s not great art. But it’s one hell of a lot of fun.
Britannia rules, baby…