Pirate Radio (The Boat That Rocked) (2009)

Rated: R for language, and some sexual content including brief nudity.
Length: 116 minutes
Grade: BDBB=B
Budget: $50 million
Box Office: $37 million (8 U.S., 28 Intl., 1 DVD)

Written and Directed by: Richard Curtis (The Girl in the CafĂ©, Love Actually, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill, Bean, and Four Weddings and a Funeral)
Starring: Charlie Rowe
With: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Kenneth Brannagh, Emma Thompson, Jack Davenport, and Gemma Arterton.

A fictionalized amalgam of the pirate radio ships anchored off England in the 1960s enjoys life and brings Rock to Britain as they battle against a despotic minor bureaucrat bent on shutting them down.

Entertainment Value: B
The latter half was better than the beginning, but the overall thing is at least interesting with enough funny moments to be worth watching. Bill Nighy is, as always, fantastic. My favorite part of this movie was the combined playing of about 60 fantastic songs and the interactions among this bizarre little community on a boat.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity D, Violence B, Language D
People risk dying in a boating accident. There are many sex-related scenes, discussions, and comments, but very little actual nudity. Language is enough to get an R, but not overwhelming. And characters drink and do mild drugs. This is definitely an R movie.

Significant Content: B
Okay, obviously the standards being shown onboard are pretty terrible all around. So it can’t be an A. But that being said, there is a much more significant point being made in this movie by the contrast between the world of the pirate radio people and their listeners (alive, energetic, interesting, and meaningful) and the world of the bureaucrats trying to stop them (dead, lifeless, boring, and shallow). Of course this is an overstatement compared to reality, but the point being made is that a community of loving misfits is far more beautiful and fascinating than the sterile collection of clones some moral conservatives seem to prefer.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
Partially for giving me the feeling like I know something I didn’t before about this historical reality and culture and partially for giving me a nice vivid contrast between two excesses in community standards to compare.

Discussion Questions:
~Part of this movie is about the sexual coming-of-age story of young James, who rather hilariously keeps failing to get the girl. When you are watching this, do you “want” him to score? If so, what does that say about your sexual ethics? Are movies like this which encourage you to think of non-marital sex as normal dangerous?
~What sort of values does Rock ‘n’ Roll represent? 50 years down the road begun with Rock, do you think we are better off because of it? In what ways does Rock fit with or violate Biblical values, such as regarding authority?
~Given the choice between asceticism and hedonism, which is better? Is this a false dilemma?
~One character says that governments hate freedom and try to stop it whenever they can. Do you agree with this?
~Which of the two communities seems more Christian to you: the boat or the government ministers? What lessons could Christians learn about love and relationships from the pirates?
~There is a long history of government feeling the need to control artistic expression going all the way back to Plato, who thought this was an essential part of a strong city. Does government have a legitimate interest in controlling art, music, film, etc.? Do you believe in any forms of censorship?
~Does music have any influence on the way you live? Can you imagine things being inverted, with the suits playing Rock and the pirates trying to broadcast classical? Why not?
~Would you have listened to Radio Rock? Would you have gone on a boat to promote music like this? Would you have fought to stop it?
~Given the massive popularity of pirate radio in Britain, how should the government have responded?
~Some have criticized this movie for badly misrepresenting the reality of the radio boats, in part because the musical selection is wrong but more because the radio boats were quite ordinary places without so much sinful behavior. If that's true, do you think the movie represents a kind of libel against the DJs? Why would a movie creator change such details? Would the movie have been as interesting otherwise?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Airing the F-word.
~The various attempts by James to get the girl.
~Two Christmases contrasted
~The very end sequence.
Overall Grade: B
It’s not great, and it’s certainly vulgar, but it was both entertaining and quite a profound depiction of the contrast between unloving legalism and loving libertinism.

Note: Based on the comment below and other research following my initial post, I have changed two parts of this review. The comment she refers to has been deleted, and the last discussion question was added.

1 comment:

Mary Payne said...

Re: "If you looked in on a pirate radio boat in the 60s, I think it would make this movie look tame by comparison. "

Those of us who love the offshore stations were very disappointed with 'Pirate Radio', as were most of the former DJs, who don't appreciate being labelled sex-maniac drug-takers! There was a lot of that type of action going on in the trendy clubs when they went ashore and very little happening on the ships, where girls were seldom allowed aboard.

The real story is yet to be told and it's much more interesting.

Teens loved the pirates from the outset. They were new and exciting, outside of the law and playing music all day. As much as listening to the music, we wanted to know what was happening on the ships. (And what was happening on the ships was nothing like the film script!)

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 (the format arrived with Radio London in 1964) 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.

The pirates didn't save the world, but they made big changes to the music industry and the world of broadcasting and caused the government to have a major rethink about what the public wanted as entertainment. (The pirates were forced off the air in August 1967. The national pop station Radio 1 opened at the end of September. Commercial radio eventually arrived here in 1973.)

What we did not have before the pirates arrived was any 24-hour pop music stations.

Mary Payne, Radio London Webmaster