Pirate Radio (R) ★★★★

This Boat Will Rock Your World

“Pirate Radio” is a heartfelt trip down rock and roll memory lane, one that is totally delightful and musically entertaining.  Rock and roll is the main feature here as in 1966, the British government allowed only 2 hours a week of radio broadcasting of pop/rock music. As a result, several ships that were outside of the government’s jurisdiction started their own ‘pirate’ stations including the addition of unconventional disk jockeys. The music is infectious and the scene is groovy. Climb aboard and set sail to the swaying motion of the sea as you’re treated to a diverse playlist of the era; from The Who’s, My Generation to Tommy James and the Shondells’ Crimson and Clover.

The film is written and directed by the accomplished Richard Curtis and appears to be a personal account of his experiences growing up listening to the ‘pirate disc jockeys’ of that time. It’s also a tribute to the music that is so close to his heart. The film starts with a young boy listening to a transistor radio under his pillow as he first lies down to sleep for the evening. This scene is reminiscent of many an evening in L.A. where I grew up. My radio was set to KRLA where pop/rock ‘thankfully’ blared 24 hours.  The Who, Beatles, The Beach Boys, Cream, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, etc. were my evening companions in those days. If you are a fan of this musical era and any of these bands I can almost guarantee that you’ll ‘love’ this film.

The Kinks upbeat, in-your-face song ‘All the Day and All of the Night’ jump starts the film as it is out of the gate with no chance of slowing down! We are morphed back into the 60’s. The setting is London with two distinct attitudes toward pop/rock. The government detested the music and the majority of the population craved it. Here in America, we were free to hear the music 24-7 with no restrictions. Disk jockeys ruled as there were no ipods, internet, etc. We were literally at their whim. If they liked a song, believe me it was repeated over and over with the hopes that you’d come around to their way of thinking. This technique is still in use today!

The majority of film takes place aboard a tired tanker ship off the coast of England with a dichotomy of characters. This motley crew is helmed by an eccentric captain, none other than the talented, Bill Nighy. His wry personality and zillion outfit changes are worth the price of admission alone. (His work includes one of my favorite characters from “Love Actually” the has-been rocker; Billy Mack.)  Newcomer Tom Sturridge plays his god-son, the youngest chap aboard. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays an American disc jockey named “The Count” who is rivaled by a Tom Petty look-alike named Gavin, played by Rhys Ifans, the flat mate of Hugh Grant in “Notting Hill.” The lovely Emma Thompson plays Tom Sturridge’s Mum. There are a host of other D.J.’s aboard, some as different as night and day. January Jones from the hit TV series ‘Mad Men’ has a brief scene – she’s named Eleanor; can you predict the song that’s played in the film that matches her name?

This cast is great fun to watch as the confines of the ship are very tight quarters. At times, it’s a cross between “M*A*S*H” and “Animal House” as Rock and Roll music blares in the background. Lots of shenanigans are played out with loads of mini vignettes that are hysterical.

The film is high quality entertainment with a dramatic surprise ending. It’s on my top10 list of Best Films of 2009. I’ve ordered the soundtrack and can’t wait to rock out!

Sarah Adamson © November 2009