Rental Pick: PIRATE RADIO (2009)


A period comedy about an illegal radio station in the North Sea in the 1960s.

PirateRadioPosterSo I guess not all *pirates* are bad. This Richard Curtis‘ comedy is [loosely] based on a true story in the 60s era Britain when the then-traditionalist British government deemed it illegal for radio stations to play rock music. I didn’t even know that this actually went on in England, but clearly, making something illegal would only make something even more popular. Kids and adults alike secretly flock to the radio, whether on their own or in a group, hanging on every broadcast and songs played by these pirate radios. The term pirate radio not only refer to the illegal nature of their broadcasts, but there were apparently pirate off-shore radio transmissions in those days. In fact, the original title of this movie was The Boat That Rocked, which I think is a better title.

I had wanted to see this for a while but given that it’s got Philip Seymour Hoffman in it made me want to see it more. He once again displayed his incredible versatility and keen ability to embody a role like no other. Hoffman played the lone American D.J. ‘The Count’ in a group of all-British staff on the Radio Rock station anchored in the North Sea, ran by Quentin (Bill Nighy). It’s quite a rambunctious but lovable bunch, and the arrival of Quentin’s godson Carl (Tom Sturridge) made for an even more interesting dynamic. He’s sent by his mother to spend time on the boat due to his problems at school, as if she thought he’d learn to be a good boy on THIS boat, ahah. The term sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll is really not far from the truth, surprise, surprise.

The arch nemesis of the group is Sir Alistair Dormandy (played with mustache-twirling kind of villain-y by Sir Kenneth Branagh) whose the quintessential hoity toity persona who thinks everyone beneath him has low morals. Branagh is pretty much chewing the scenery here as he instructs his subordinate, appropriately named Twatt (Jack Davenport), to find a way to somehow shut down Radio Rock.

PirateRadio_StillsWhilst continuing to dodge Alistair’s ruthless advances, the boat has its own shares of drama amongst its crews. The arrival of popular D.J. Gavin (Rhys Ifans) increases tension given the rivalry between him and The Count, not to mention his massive celebrity status also cost fellow DJ Simon (Chris O’Dowd) his new bride. January Jones pretty much just strutted around here, I never really liked her as an actress and her role here didn’t exactly change my mind. All the chaos are done in the spirit of fun however, it’s refreshingly not mean-spirited. And for a British film about rock ‘n roll, it’s not as foul-mouthed as one would expect, which is a pleasant surprise for me. It may appear that the filmmaker is demonizing the British government but really the focus is more on the ridiculousness of Alistair’s holier-than-thou attitude even towards his own cabinet members! There is a subplot about Carl finding about his real father that doesn’t get explored as well as it could, but his unabashed naïveté is pretty endearing to watch. His relationship with Nick Frost‘ character is hilarious but also quite moving.

As for the finale, it’s truly the kind of ending that made you want to get up and cheer! Yes, a little mawkish perhaps, but not devoid of wit and charm. The music here well, rocks, which is what one would expect. The who’s who of rock music in the 60s are on display here, from The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, The Hollies, Jimmy Hendrix, Buddy Holly, etc. add to the feel-good fun vibe of the movie. There’s also no real protagonist in terms of one specific actor dominating the screen, I think the entire boat is the star and you could say even say the rock music is the protagonist. Though the narrative is far from being perfect, it’s still quite heartfelt and entertaining that I’d recommend this for a rental. It’s another fun one from Richard Curtis‘ filmography.

3.5 reels

Have you seen this movie, well what did you think?

38 thoughts on “Rental Pick: PIRATE RADIO (2009)

  1. I remember seeing this one back in theaters when it was first out and while it wasn’t perfect, it was still a nice watch nonetheless. Especially if you’re a big rock ‘n roll fan like myself. Good review.

  2. I think it’s an OK film which has some great performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, and Rhys Ifans. Yet, I understood why the film had been cut for the U.S. audiences under a new title but…. I still think it needed work in the editing room as those interludes of people dancing to the music were unnecessary. Plus, I was annoyed by some of the anachronisms in the music and the fact that the final credits feature album covers from people like the Black Eyed Peas and Taylor Swifts in the same place as other classic albums.

    1. I kinda wish they’d stuck w/ the original title, I think it’s catchier. I didn’t even notice Taylor Swift’s music, but then again I’m not a fan of country music. The rock ‘n roll stuff were great though.

  3. I enjoyed this one too. A good-hearted story never really out to offend, typical Curtis! Funnily enough it’s still called The Boat That Rocked over here in the UK. Great work Ruth.


  4. I think I’d be interested for the cast alone! Love Jack Davenport and Chris O’Dowd. and Hoffman is great in everything I’ve seen him in (RIP). Plus, the premise sounds super interesting. Definitely did not know that happened over there! Great review, Ruth!

    1. I don’t know why Jack Davenport isn’t in more films to be honest. I’m glad O’Dowd seems to get more film roles. I always remember him in The IT Crowd! Yeah, sad to see PSH no longer w/ us 😦

      1. I don’t know either, because I think he’s hilarious and an all around gifted actor (at least from what I’ve seen him in). Maybe he does more stage acting? I should look him up sometime. Yeah, O’Dowd is hilarious in IT Crowd, so it’s nice to see him getting some more acting opportunities. I know – it really is tragic. Pirate Radio seems like a movie he’d definitely be in, so it didn’t surprise me too much when you mentioned his name.

  5. Brittani

    I never did get around to seeing this, but I really should. Watching anything with PSH in it now is a little sad. Great review!

    1. Hi Brittani, it’s really a fun rental if you’re in the mood for British comedies & great music! PSH is fantastic here once again, his range is just amazing and it still made me sad he’s gone.

  6. I had a great time with this film. Far from perfect, indeed. Silly. Stupid. But the music is great and I loved it just the same and Kenneth B. plays the stuffy government official perfectly, doesn’t he? Great review!

  7. Stu

    Nice review Ruth. I’ve never seen this and I’m not a fan of Richard Curtis’s films to be honest but I do quite fancy catching this next time it’s on TV given that it’s a little bit different to his normal romantic comedy stuff.

    1. Hi Stu! Oh I think his rom-coms are a lot of fun, it’s not the standard fare that Hollywood always churn out. This one is definitely more on the comedic side, and the fact that it’s loosely based on a true story made it even more compelling.

  8. Abbi

    I liked this when I first watched it but on a second viewing the scene where Nick Frost’s character offers up his groupie to Carl to lose his virginity so awful that it ruined the film for me.

  9. Ted S.

    I think I saw a trailer of this movie but never got around to see it, might give it a watch sometime. Usually when I’m bored, I’ll just see what’s on Netflix and watch a movie there, lol.

    1. Hi Ted! This one is quite fun, esp if you’re a fan of rock’nroll music. I wish Netflix had MORE movies, their streaming selections is pretty lame.

  10. I love this movie!!! I have watched it three times so far!! So funny!!
    And I totally agree with Wendell, The boat that rocked is a much better title, don’t know why they changed it for US. I bought the DVD simply because of the title (to be honest) and glad I found a gem

    1. Glad to hear Nov! Yeah I also mentioned the original title was better. Did you really buy it because of the title?? Well good thing the movie turned out good! 🙂

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  12. I liked this one a lot. Curtis always makes charming movies, and this is no different. I also prefer the original title, but I’m guessing the film benefits from being edited before its American release.

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