Movie Review: The Boat that Rocked (aka Pirate Radio)
In April 2009 Richard Curtis’ new film ‘The Boat that Rocked’ (or ‘Pirate Radio’ in America) was released in the UK, based on the pirate radio stations that were very popular during the 1960s. Radio Rock, the pirate radio station in the film, is a fictional station that broadcasts from the North Sea somewhere near the East coast of England, which at the time was the typical sort of place for a pirate station to broadcast. The story centres around ‘Young Carl’ (Tom Sturridge) who is sent onto the boat to stay with the Captain, his godfather Quentin (Bill Nighy), by his mother (Emma Thompson) after he is expelled from school for smoking weed and suchlike. As is later observed by Thick Kevin (Tom Brooke), a boat full of promiscuous men (and a lesbian) is probably not the best place to learn the error of his ways.
Along the way, Carl learns about love and sex from DJ Dave (Nick Frost) and the mysterious Midnight Mark, as well as what it’s like to be stabbed in the back when Quentin introduces him to his niece Marianne (Talulah Riley), who he later finds in bed with Dave himself. While the film does focus a lot on the aspect of sex, as you may expect from the 60s, it is not all light-hearted comedy. For example, as someone who doesn’t have girls come to visit him, Simple Simon (Chris O’Dowd) is astounded when a girl he’s known for two weeks agrees to marry him. All becomes clear though after their wedding night, when Elenore admits the real reason why she’s married him.
There are more serious undertones running through the film, such as the sense of loyalty between the men, which is witnessed on numerous occasions. This is most evidently displayed in The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose fierce loyalty towards the station, captain and crew almost costs him his life ... more than once. Used to being the top DJ, The Count feels a strong sense of rivalry with Gavin, who he feels is attempting to usurp his king-like status. So when Gavin breaks the trust of the other DJs, the Count is the one to stand up for them and take Gavin down a peg or two.
But the worst of their tribulations comes from government minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh), tasked with getting rid of the scandalous pirate stations, with their ghastly pop music. Moving to make all pirate stations illegal, Dormandy and his assistant Twatt (Jack Davenport) bring in the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act 1967, preventing anyone broadcasting from sea since the signal could interfere with distress calls from other ships. As the Act comes into effect, the DJs at Radio Rock defy governmental expectations by continuing to broadcast. With The Count at the (metaphorical) helm they all risk imprisonment by staying aboard the ship, but staying true to what they believe in leads to much more disastrous consequences.
I love this film for many reasons; the previously mentioned mix of comedy and serious moments, the fact that the end makes me cry no matter how many times I watch it, the fact that it is so colourful and the exceptional soundtrack. If you lived through the 60s, like 60s music or have a pulse then this film is for you. I don’t know anyone who has watched it and didn’t like it.
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