Love boat

Aboard this ship, music is the main character

Only the laws of rock ’n’ roll apply in pirate waters.

Only the laws of rock ’n’ roll apply in pirate waters.

Pirate Radio
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans and Tom Sturridge. Directed by Richard Curtis. Tinseltown. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

Imagine a world without rock ’n’ roll. A world in which radio was reserved for political debate and classical tunes. Where the Rolling Stones and Beatles were reserved for those who had the mind to buy their records at the store. Pretty boring world, eh? That’s what the folks aboard the ship Radio Rock thought, too.

Pirate Radio depicts an era in England in which all the aforementioned things were true. The government declared rock immoral, hence illegal on the airwaves. So, those in love with the genre took to the high seas, anchored Radio Rock outside of British waters, and transmitted the music to nearly half the country.

This film’s boat is full of fun characters—the DJs, all male, and but one female, a lesbian, who cooks—and the very small world in which they live is dominated by the broadcast studios onboard. The music is the loud and empowering music of the 1960s, and the DJs, including one newsman, are clearly passionate about their mission. And they become their own characters for their listeners, with the newsman often giving updates on so-and-so’s wedding on the ship or the rivalry between two DJs.

Trailers portray American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman as the lead, but his character, the Count, is merely one of the loudest voices on the ship. His ego is matched by that of Gavin, a sexy-voiced Rhys Ifans.

The fun begins when young Carl (Tom Sturridge) comes aboard, sent by his mother to accompany his godfather (Bill Nighy), who oversees the ship’s command. In many ways, while being an homage to rock, Pirate Radio is also a coming-of-age tale for Carl, who is young and fatherless, looking for direction in life.

Alongside all the raucousness on the ship, Radio Rock faces a larger dilemma: the members of Parliament, in particular the stuffy Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh), are trying desperately to shut down the pirate radio crew, despite overwhelming public opinion in the station’s favor.

One thing writer and director Richard Curtis (Love, Actually) does really well is bring his large cast very much to life. Each of the DJs has his particular personality, and their trials and tribulations are given almost equal screen time, no matter how cool or lame they might be. Carl’s is the only storyline that stands apart from the rest, as he is merely a guest on the ship. And the infrequent visitors (women are invited aboard once every other weekend) add a bit of real life to the confines of the boat.

This is a story that hasn’t been told, with a rich cast of mostly British comedians and, as would be expected, it features a rockin’ soundtrack to boot.