Pirates seize the airwaves with sex, drugs and rock and roll

By Tatiana Craine

Beware. Pirates! Or perhaps, pirates beware. Radio pirates, that is. “Pirate Radio” (perhaps better known by its British title, “The Boat that Rocked”) tells the jaunty, if jumbled, tale of renegade radio DJs playing rock and pop in 1960s Britain. A somewhat rickety boat serves as the home base for Radio Rock in the ocean where they broadcast contraband music to over 20 million eager listeners across the country. At first, it seems like things are blissful, then a government official decides that more than 45 minutes of rock music per day is just too much for the British public. A battle between the rockers and the government ensues-for the next two hours of the film.

Young, bright-eyed Carl (Tom Sturridge) boards the Radio Rock boat after getting expelled from school for smoking. His godfather Quentin (Bill Nighy), takes him in with open arms and commends Carl for his reckless behavior. The youngster gets introduced to a cast of characters who are as diverse and colorful as the music pumping from their station. Men dominate the ship, with the only exception being a lesbian cook.

“Pirate Radio,” directed by Richard Curtis, serves as a character-driven piece much akin to Curtis’ “Love Actually.” The film strings along chaotic plotlines while trying to tie the story together with montages of avid Radio Rock listeners simultaneously tuning into the station and tuning out government warnings.

Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers an outrageous, fantastic performance as The Count, an American DJ with a big mouth and a penchant for Brit girls. The Count seems reminiscent of Hoffman’s journalist in “Almost Famous,” except this time his character is the envy of the entire nation-not just a pseudo-Cameron Crowe youth. Bill Nighy turns in a ridiculous and wry performance that levels with Hoffman’s pluckiness well. Other big names in the film include Kenneth Branagh and Jack Davenport as the conservative officials trying to shut down Radio Rock. Branagh plays the quintessential stuffy Brit while Davenport’s character, though dryly funny, serves mostly as a joke. (His character’s surname is Twatt. Yes, two Ts, at the end and about as much balls as the name suggests.) Emma Thompson also pops up for a cameo as Carl’s mother, but she does little more than sip cognac and sparkle behind her oversized sunglasses.

Though “Pirate Radio” claims that the story is fictional, there were several real pirate radio stations off the coast of Britain way back when. However, shutting down the radio stations had less to do with curbing counter-cultural movements than it did with preserving the unionized, non-recorded music played on the BBC. The film skews history a bit, but it’s surprisingly easy to forgive Curtis for messing with the past.

“Pirate Radio” looks gorgeous, with a veritable slew of mod patterns and colors-vibrant and visually pleasing with every frame. Girls in the height of 1960s fashion clamoring aboard the Radio Rock boat showcase the best of the era’s sartorialism.

If, for no other reason, see the film for the music. “Pirate Radio” samples over 60 songs, awakening nostalgia aplenty. The Kinks, The Troggs, David Bowie and Cat Stevens are just some of the musicians on the film’s soundtrack.

The film opened in the UK to mixed reviews, pushing Curtis to cut back on superfluous scenes and tighten up the story for the American release on Nov. 13. However, despite the film’s lengthiness and sometimes-forced comedy, it’s a jolly good romp into the technicolor world of Radio Rock and those associated with it.