A rip-roaring comedy!
There's no denying the comic energy of the cast. Philip Seymour Hoffman has a rowdy good time. Bill Nighy is sublime. Rhys Ifans is terrific. Couple that with blasts of Brit rock from the Beatles and the Stones to Dusty Springfield and David Bowie, and the ship is unsinkable.
'Pirate Radio' captures the era’s exhilarating sense of freedom and the music that was its most brilliant expression.
This lightweight British comedy is set in 1966 and captures a sense of the era through its costumes, production design, dialogue and, above all, its top-notch soundtrack. While the tale of rogue disc jockeys who defied the government and broadcast rock 'n' roll beyond U.K. territorial waters can grow choppy, watching it is like lazing on a sunny afternoon with old pals.
In the mid-'60s, while some of the world's most popular rock bands were homegrown Brits, their countrymen had shockingly limited opportunities to hear them on the airwaves. In 1966, the USA had more than 500 radio stations playing The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks and countless other bands. But the government-owned BBC chose to broadcast merely two hours of rock 'n' roll per week to the grooving masses.
So rock aficionados took to the high seas, broadcasting music from aboard these vessels. Almost as soon as pirate radio made its first splash, however, the British government fired up to shut it down.
Within this real-life atmosphere, director Richard Curtis (Love Actually) sets his light and engaging, if occasionally sentimental, tale.
Boys will be boys and often at top volume in “Pirate Radio,” Richard Curtis’s fanciful fiction about rebel broadcasters who, in the mid-1960s, blasted British airwaves and eardrums with the Stones, the Kinks and the Who, among other youth-quaking greats of the era. Stuffed with playful character actors and carpeted with wall-to-wall tunes, the film makes for easy viewing and easier listening, even if Mr. Curtis, who wrote and directed, has nothing really to say about these rebels for whom rock ’n’ roll was both life’s rhyme and its reason.
Borrowed from the annals of the strange but true, the story opens in 1966, before the British invasion had breached Britain’s official radio channels, run by the British Broadcasting Corporation. In his book “Selling the Sixties: The Pirates and Pop Music Radio,” Robert Chapman writes that the government’s cultural guardians responded to rock ’n’ roll with degrees of indifference and hostility: “BBC policy makers continued to go about their cultural missionary work much as they always had done, selectively retrieving a folk tradition here, acting as a kindly public service benefactor there, bestowing sponsorship upon those deemed worthy of official approval.” Although the BBC played a few weekly hours of rock, it largely, aided by the government, kept the noise down.
Seen from a distance, 1966 is a neither-fish-nor-foul era. In 1965, there were no drugs, black-and-white film, and the end of the old. In 1967 , there were LSD, psychedelic colors and the birth of the new. So what was 1966? Yet, people who were there often say that '66 was the best time, the height of that decade's fun. And now "Pirate Radio" has arrived, evoking 1966 as the life pinnacle for a group of DJs on a boat, broadcasting rock 'n' roll to the United Kingdom.
If you want to know years in advance what old-age nostalgia is going to look like for Baby Boomers, look no further than "Pirate Radio," in which the sun always shines, the music is great and the sex is available, guilt-free and glorious. This might sound like a sentimental recipe, but Richard Curtis, who wrote and directed, keeps the spirit fresh and anarchic.
At one point, the American DJ, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, observes that it's a terrible thing to realize you're living the best days of your life - to know that as you're living them. And with that, we realize what Curtis has achieved in "Pirate Radio." For all its irreverence and caustic humor, this movie is about the recipe for happiness - how sometimes it can all come together: friends, community, excitement and faith in the future.
Featuring the best movie soundtrack since Alan Parker’s “The Commitments,” “Pirate Radio”arrives on these shores in the hopes of sweeping fans of American classic rock away.
Set in the 1960s, the film is a comic ensemble tale about a time when rock ’n’ roll was strictly rationed by BBC radio and “pirate” stations were set up offshore to broadcast music by the Stones, The Who, the Kinks, Jimi Hendrix and more to the delight of Brits of all sizes, shapes, races and social classes. In fact, half the population of Britain was listening.
The story centers on the floating radio station “Radio Rock,” a bobbing den of iniquity in the North Sea headed by Quentin (Bill Nighy of “Pirates of the Caribbean”), a Glen Urquhart plaid-suited, middle-aged radical/iconoclast.
The plot kicks off with the arrival on the ship of Carl (a pale and wan Tom Sturridge), a wispily handsome Peter Pan-type with a too- fussy hairstyle. The son of a famously licentious beauty (Emma Thompson), Carl is on two quests: to learn the identity of his father and lose his virginity.
Also on board this ship of rock fools is a popular American DJ known as The Count (amply beer-bellied Philip Seymour Hoffman). The Count rules the roost until the arrival of the strutting rock rooster Gavin Cavanaugh (Rhys Ifans, giving Hoffman a flamboyant run). Gavin’s hiring is another of Quentin’s attempts to foil government plans to abolish pirate radio, plans headed by blue-nosed prig Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh, exhaling ham). Sir Alistair’s slavish henchman in his unending crusade to kill the fugitive stations is a Uriah Heep-ish sidekick (Jack Davenport).