Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pirate Radio (2009)

Would you believe way back in the 60's jolly old England gave about 30 minutes of pop music a day due to the fact that the government saw rock and roll as immoral, and lewd.  The answer to this was pirate radio.  These were actual ships that transmitted rock and roll tunes to the English while they were in international waters.  It was legal, and the these stations had about 25 million listeners.

That's the premise of "Pirate Radio", and I have to say it's a rocking good time.  Written and directed by Richard Curtis Pirate Radio is one of those films that transports you to a time where music hadn't been monopolized by corporations yet.  It was the time of the Beatles, The Stones, Iggy Pop, and the Kinks.  The British invasion was on, and what came out of that was some great music. 

Pirate Radio is an ensemble piece, and it has a multitude of characters.  There's Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the Count.  Nick Frost  as Doctor Dave, Chris O'Dowd as Simple Dave, and of course Rhys Ifans as Gavin Canavagh.  There are others which will make you laugh and snicker.  My favorite casting choice is Bill Nighy as Quentin.   Nighy is a one man dynamo who is one of my favorite actors.  If you ever get to see a movie called The Girl in the CafĂ©, I suggest you do.  Nighy is outstanding in it as he is in Pirate Radio. 

The plot I guess is simple.  Pirate Radio is a thorn in the British governments side, and they want it gone.  The director does show how governments try and legislate things they don't want or like.  Only thing was that most Brit's listened to Pirate Radio, and it was like putting the Jeanie back in the bottle.  They couldn't, and it eventually failed, only later to be taken over by large corporate conglomerates, but hey this is a review not an opinion piece.


The film shows the day to day antics of the DJ's on board the Pirate radio ship, and we are introduced to Carl (Tom Sturridge) who spends a summer on board the ship.  It is most ironic that in an era of self expression, and sexual liberation the men on board the ship are almost prisoners.  They live to be on the air and play their music.  The film is steeped in songs from that era and it feels authentic.  Most of the action is on-board the ship, and it is funny.   As the government tries to plot the demise of the Pirate Radio, we are introduced to people listening to Pirate Radio covertly.  They are nurses, secretaries, truck drivers, students, doctors, lawyers and so on.  It's amazing to even comprehend that a government would try and stop something that the people already knew about and wanted.  Curtis does a good job showing this all in montage and split screen with the music blaring to the music of that era. 

After watching this film I felt a bit of pain for the old days.  Where radio wasn't so corporate, and it was driven by the music and the personalities of the DJ's.  Here in the states FM was rock and rolls revitalization along with high fidelity sound, and "Pirate Radio" gives off that vibe of smacking that authoritarian mindset.  I did go back after seeing this film and play some albums I haven't heard in a while, and it brought back memories of a day long gone.  That's the only sadness here.  Their seems to be no frontier.  Some say it is the digital arena now, but that's a pay site, and radio was and is free for anyone to listen to.

All in all the performances are solid and funny, the music is grand, and the message is true.  Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a moving little speech as his program is turned off, and that is "you can never silence the music". 

Give me an Amen!  And could you turn that music up a bit LOUDER please!

Here's the original Pirate Radio: Radio Caroline

Rock On!!!!


Mary Payne said...

'The Boat That Rocked' (renamed 'Pirate Radio' for the US market) very much divides opinion. Those of us who love the offshore stations were very disappointed with it, as were most of the former DJs who served on those stations. The real story - yet to be told - is much more interesting.

The film was supposed to be a fictional comedy, set on a fictional ship and not based on any one particular station as its 'main character'. In basing his plot loosely around the offshore radio story, Curtis has only served to confuse people who are unfamiliar with the facts. The film's theme is 'rock' and overcoming the 'banning of rock music by the BBC and/or government' - which never happened.

Sixties Top Forty format offshore stations were all about pop, not rock. The word 'rock' tended in those days to refer to rock 'n' roll of the Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis era.

It is not true that the BBC played no pop music.The Musicians' Union restricted the number of hours of recorded music permitted to be aired, arguing that spinning records took work from its members. Much of the permitted BBC 'needle time' was devoted to the weekly 'Pick of the Pops' chart run-down.

It's also very unfortunate that the film-makers didn't stick to the music of 1966/7 for their soundtrack, seeing as that is the period when it is supposedly set. Some of the tracks are well outside of the Sixties.

However, I've read a surprising number of reviews by people on both sides of the pond who loved the film!

If you want to hear the real music and jingles that the offshore stations were playing, visit

Mary Payne, Radio London Webmaster

Karl said...


Thank you for the education. I will most definitely look at the link, and I guess I'm not surprised that Hollywood got it wrong. They usually do. Thanks for the info.