Britain during the 60s holds this almost mythical status in pop culture, a creative explosion of music, fashion, entertainment and ultimately expression. But this era of free love was not universally accepted, especially amongst the establishment, who, while they ultimately lost the culture war, put up a good fight. Especially when it came to music and what was played on the radio. In 2009, the tales of those who took to the waters, defied the government, all in the name of rock ‘n’ roll was re-enacted, in Richard Curtis’s The Boat that Rocked (or Pirate Radio).
It is ’66, The Beatles are about to get funky, fashion was becoming increasingly psychedelic, and an era of free love is on the horizon. But the commercial radio stations are still set in their ways, and due to the way radio stations are licenced, there’s little chance for them to change. Off the coast of the U.K., lies an indiscreet ship, here lies Rock Radio that blasts rock music into the country’s airwaves. It is here we meet our protagonist a young Carl is sent to be with his godfather, who is the D.J. in charge aboard Rock Radio. The film chronicles the exploits and lives of those fighting for freer music, the highs, the lows and everything in-between, and Carl’s journey to find love, purpose and maybe even his father.
Pirate Radio (or The Boat that Rocked), while certainly based on true events, is pretty much fictional, in a way that focuses on the connotations of the era, rather than actualities. For instance, the government depicted by the likes of Kenneth Branagh and Jack Davenport is especially snooty and dower. Whilst the crew of Rock Radio is shown as a ragtag bunch, who when not playing music, they are engaging in horseplay. It is not just about the music; love is essentially a big part. Especially with Carl and his relationship with Marianne. This combined with the era-appropriate music makes The Boat that Rocked (Pirate Radio) a look at the spirit of the decade, or at least how it is remembered.
Most filmmakers would do anything to amass the assortment of talent that Richard Curtis has collected. To say these are big and recognisable stars is an understatement. With international stars of Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Chris O’Dowd, Rhys Darby, Katherine Parkinson are just some names giving it their all. Including a strong performance by the late and undisputedly great Philip Seymour Hoffman. If you are remotely a fan of modern British comedy, you will at least find one star you will recognise and love here.
Like a fond memory Pirate Radio (or The Boat that Rocked), encapsulates the good of the counterculture whether real or imagined, camaraderie and scuffles that come about when so many great, passionate personalities are confined in a peculiar situation. It is a free spirit of a film, evocative of the era it is set in. Fans of Richard Curtis’s films on both side of the pond will be in for a treat with this feel-good frolic. If you are feeling particularly nostalgic, it might be time to dust off some classics and engage in the freedoms of the free love era.
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