Pirate Radio – Movie Review

Fun, fun, fun until the Prime Minister takes the T-Bird away

Writer/director Richard Curtis may be best known for his writing associated with the “Blackadder Goes Forth” and “Mr. Bean” TV series but he has pulled a rabbit out of the hat with this swinging hit starring the “British Invasion” music that swept the world.  The scene is the late 1960’s and the birth of underground radio.  That is the radio that plays all those nasty songs that mention spending the night together and other such evil acts.  It is also the radio that plays unplayable songs such as the long versions of the Cream songs and maybe even the much revered “Stairway to Heaven.”

In any event they are bad, bad, bad and the British government has outlawed them.  At least on land they have outlawed hem.  But like any respectable pot-smoking crazies the underground music mongers found a loophole.  They could buy junk steamers and anchor off shore in international waters and broadcast from there to the British mainland.  This sets in motion the most hilarious skewering of the hopelessly behind the eight ball politicos while at the same time highlighting some of the best rock music the western world has ever known.

Curtis’ past screenplays have been first rate (Oscar nomination for “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and BAFTA nominations for “Love Actually” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary”).  Certainly, with “BJ’s Diary” he pushed the limit’s of conventional taste while using the time honored tool of the belly laugh to probe deep into places man had never been before.  OK, some men had been there but not very many.

“Pirate Radio” does much the same thing by using some genuinely funny dialog to explore the painful side of the free sex revolution of the swinging ‘60s.  The main protagonist is Philip Seymour Hoffman (Oscar win for “Capote” and nominations for “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “Doubt”) who rivals Robin Williams wonderful performance of twenty years back in “Good Morning Vietnam.”  He plays the drug crazed vagabond DJ who has lines and sensibilities much too refined for any self-respecting drug crazed vagabond DJ.  Actually he is more like Lenny Bruce with unruly hair and a turntable.  Williams partners with Bill Nighy (“Love Actually,” Constant Gardener,” “Notes on a Scandal”) who is the owner of the pirate radio ship and the voice of reason in trying to keep the authorities at bay.  The two develop a screen chemistry that is spot-on.

Backing up the two main players are Rhys Ifans (“Notting Hill”) playing the deadliest DJ sex pistol of all time and an up-and-coming Tom Sturridge as Carl the young man on a mysterious search for his unknown father who may be on the ship.  So as the plot unfolds we have the callow youth getting initiated into the real world of weirdoes quickly while searching for his father amongst the real world of weirdoes and we have the deadliest sex pistol of all time who may have carried his game too far.  Completing the main menu is Nick Frost who teamed up with Simon Pegg for the pretty funny “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” films.

The film manages to capture that sense of discovery and adventure that seemed to be just around every corner in the 1960’s even if most of the adventure was really nothing more than just trying to drive home on LSD.  The sound track of golden oldies of the era is produced to spotless perfection and accompanied by some of the most truly righteous choreography to be seen in any pop musical.  The photography is by BAFTA and Emmy nominated TV lenser Danny Cohen who does a great job of filming in the close quarters below decks as well as the scene from the top of the mainmast that has to be seen to be believed.  Young Carl is right out of both “Almost Famous” and “Mama Mia” (not to mention “Hair”) as the honest and incorruptible lad out to find he best in everyone and everything in the world.  As luck would have it he pretty much does just that on HMS Pirate Radio.

The movie apparently got slapped with an “R” rating for some reason, nudity one would suppose.  But the “R” rating for this film should signify nothing more than “really funny.”  There is little or nothing in this movie to offend anyone with a lick of sense or a fragment of nostalgia for the golden age of popular music.  Great fun.

Directed and Written by: Richard Curtis

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Tom Sturridge

Release: November 13, 2009
MPAA: Rated R for language, and some sexual content including brief nudity
Runtime: 115 minutes
Country: UK /Germany / USA / France
Language: English
Color: Color