In Theaters: Pirate Radio

Movieline Score:

One of my favorite personal interview outtakes involves Rob Zombie casually mentioning, by way of illustrating his point that a good film crosses all boundaries, that he thinks Love Actually is a terrific movie. It's a testament to writer/director Richard Curtis's firm grasp on the romantic comedy genre (though Love was the first film he directed, he wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones's Diary) that he was able to pilot it across that particular boundary; after years working in television on series like Black Adder and Mr. Bean, Curtis carved out a niche that was well-rewarded but also well-respected. With Pirate Radio (released several months ago in the UK as The Boat That Rocked) he leaves the sure footing of boy-meets-girl, modern London for a boat docked off the coast of England in 1966. The true story of the ships that sat just outside of UK waters, broadcasting the rock and roll songs the BBC refused to play on a pirated signal, seems like an unstoppable premise, and yet Curtis's film feels strangely anchored in the port: lots of activity on board but no forward motion.

More a series of songs set to images than vice versa, Pirate Radio opens with a zippy title sequence backed by the Kinks's "All Day and All of the Night." Young Carl's (Tom Sturridge) gadabout mother has offloaded him onto the pirate radio ship where his godfather Quentin (Bill Nighy) is overseeing a crew of DJs. The ship plays a non-stop rotation of the Stones, Who, Hendrix, and Kinks songs that the BBC, who had a monopoly on England's radio market, would only play for two hours a week. There is the sexy one (Tom Wisdom), the fat one (Nick Frost), the dumb one (Tom Brooke), the token American (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the amoral badass (Rhys Ifans) and a bunch more who all fall within Curtis's salty-to-sweet spectrum of masculinity. The women here (mostly seen as a boatload of stamping fillies imported monthly for sex) are either disappointing sluts or eye-rolling lesbians, but hey, man -- the '60s!

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  • Charli says:

    i have to agree. I saw this movie when it was released overseas and the first thing that struck me is how much it did not match the trailer. the trailer version which implied we'd see a band of DJs actually starting this whole thing etc was interesting. the final result was blah

  • Harold X says:

    How does the UK version compare to the U.S. cut, which is (among other things) evidently 20 minutes shorter. I trust the "real" version will at least make it to DVD.

  • Bunnye Hearne says:

    Arrived in London in '69 and landed a secretarial job with two guys who were responsible for Radio Caroline, the pirate radio ship. Never heard of it. They had since sold it. They spent hours talking about their exploits on the seas and made me wish I had been part of it. George Drummond lives in Barbados and I would love to know what happened to that adorable Irishman, Ronan O'Rahilly. When I saw the first trailer for the movie I cried for an hour. Such wonderful memories of my life in London. Now I'm a gray-haired retiree! But like them, living off the memories of better times. By the way, George Lazenby was George's roommate at the time and I had never heard of him, either! I'd led a sheltered life down South!

    • sasha drummond says:

      Hi Bunnye,
      The George Drummond you speak is actually my father, and he is rather reluctant to go in to too much detail about his past exploits, to my frustration as I find it all fascinating! Please feel free to email me about stories or memories you have of him or just the time in general! my email is
      Many thanks!

  • chris michael says:

    i loved the music and yet i left with this "i loved the music feeling".
    it seemed hoffman mailed this one in. some funny moments and yet all in all not very good.

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