Richard Curtis, writer/director of Love Actually, (on my top ten favorite movies of all time list) is back, paying homage to the rock n roll revolution of the sixties and the "pirate" radio stations that broke through the British government's tight-assed policy of limiting the exposure of rock music to a couple of hours a week on the BBC. During the mid-sixties, while Americans were rockin' and boppin' to the "British Invasion" music of the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, etc. on the radio airwaves, the British public was literally being starved of their own music. This gave rise to the first pirate radio ship, Radio Caroline, anchored in international waters off the British coast--and others that followed--which began rocking out and giving the public what they wanted to hear. Pirate Radio is a fictionalized comedy loosely based on those historic events.
Pirate Radio grabs you right out of the gate with The Kinks blasting from the theater speakers as we're introduced to the wacky deejays that populate the ship, Radio Rock--including The Count, (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and later on Gavin, (Rhys Ifans) Britain's "greatest deejay" come to join the rebels and provide his own brand of mildly salacious banter to get Radio Rock's legions of followers stirred up. Quentin, (Bill Nighy, whom we loved in Love Actually) is the captain and head honcho who tries to ride herd on his colorful assemblage of eight distinctive personalities.
Saturdays bring boat loads of hero-worshiping female fans to the ship, who provide the sex to go along with the drugs and rock n roll. Then there's the subplot of Carl, (Tom Sturridge) Quentin's young godchild who comes aboard and comes of age as he tries to lose his virginity to the exotic Marianne, (Talulah Riley) who's more enamored with one of the deejays--even though he's ugly--because HE'S A DEEJAY!
Momentum and dramatic tension build as the staid British government attempts to shut the pirate station down and rid the airwaves of all that trashy, undignified, un-stiff upper lip music. Kenneth Branagh is annoyingly anal as Sir Alistair Dormandy, who tries every trick in the book to sink Radio Rock--eventually leading to the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act of 1967 that officially outlaws pirate radio.
There's a bunch of irrelevant silliness in the middle of Pirate Radio that completely knocks the wind out of the movie's sails at that point, slowing what had been a building momentum leading to the inevitable showdown between the pirates and the British authorities. Fortunately, though, the film picks up again and roars full speed ahead to a stirring climax and conclusion.
Pirate Radio would have gotten a higher grade from me if not for this buzz-kill in the middle, but it is what it is. The rest of the movie, however, is KICK-ASS, with an almost nonstop soundtrack of the grooviest Stones, Kinks, Hendrix, The Who, Beach Boys, Turtles, and yes--even The Seekers--setting the whole theater on the verge of breaking out and boogeying in the aisles! (And you definitely SHOULD see it in the theater.)
Some of you know that I spent decades working as a radio deejay inside and outside the continental U.S. And while Pirate Radio is played pretty much over the top, the stuff about the adoring females who worshiped (and bestowed certain types of favors upon) their radio icons during the heyday of rock n roll (as I look back fondly on those times) was NOT terribly exaggerated.
I'm still grinning from ear to ear.