Have you ever watched a movie and the whole time you are thinking, “Why didn’t someone make me watch this before now?”, and then when you finish it you wonder if it’s too soon to watch it again? That’s how I feel about Pirate Radio (originally titled The Boat that Rocked). Seriously. I don’t know if it’s because of the cast, the music, or the fact that people are thumbing their nose at convention, but I’m seriously in love.
Set in 1966, Pirate Radio is a fictional retelling of a time period when rock-n-roll didn’t rule the airwaves, well not in Britain anyway. British radios stations could play very little of it and the only way you could hear more it was from one of the many “pirate” radio stations housed aboard ships in the North Sea. As much as the government wanted to they hadn’t quite devised a way to shut them down so they played what they wanted. The ship this movie focuses on is Radio Rock, ran by Quentin played by the ultra-suave Bill Nighy. Radio Rock is staffed 24/7 by a varied and somewhat motley crew of DJs including The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Simon (Chris O’Dowd), Dave (Nick Frost), and others.
On the other side is the British government intent on taking down Radio Rock and the other pirate stations, because, of course, rock music is evil, anti-establishment, and all that. Hired by Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh), Mr. Twatt (Jack Davenport), feel free to giggle, devises many different schemes to dismantle radio freedom.
The movie doesn’t technically have a main character, although the story tends to be presented from the view of “Young” Carl (Tom Sturridge). Carl is a 17 year old boy who is sent to Radio Rock by his mother after he is expelled from school to spend some time with his godfather Quentin. It’s a coming of age time not only for him but seemingly everyone on the boat. This movie is not just about the fight to bring music to the masses, but the changes they all go through, both on and off the air. They find love, or lust, their voice, their purpose, and the play some damn fine music.
It’s hard to convey why I love this movie so much. I think the biggest thing is character investment. There are just so many different personalities and it doesn’t take long for you to forget they are actors and think of them as people, some of which you wouldn’t mind having as friends. It also blends the seriousness of the fight with a nice feel good atmosphere. The highs aren’t too high and the lows are just enough to hit home without depressing the hell out of you.
Now this movie is not without flaws. There are many glowing anachronisms, particularly if you are an audiophile or a history buff and parts of the movie requires some suspension of disbelief. But you know, who cares, this movie isn’t about as much about accuracy as it is the experience, the feelings, and to illustrate what can happen not only when you are passionate and believe in something but also when you are brave, or crazy enough to stand up for it.
Long live rock-n-roll.