If you are fan of the 60s, and especially of 60s pop and rock music, then Pirate Radio is a must-see. There are more than fifty songs on the soundtrack, boasting familiar tunes by The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys, to name a few. The movie was written and directed by Richard Curtis—most well-known as the screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral and for writing and directing the charming Christmas flick, Love Actually—who displayed his talent for quirky characterization again. It’s hard not to love the crew aboard Radio Rock: the American DJ who identifies himself as “The Count” (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the popular Gavin (Rhys Ifans), “Nutty” Angus (Rhys Darby), “Doctor” Dave (Nick Frost), Thick Kevin (Tom Brooke), Felicity (Katherine Parkinson), Simon (Chris O’Dowd), News John (Will Adamsdale), “Midnight Mark” (Tom Wisdom), mysterious Bob (Ralph Brown), Harold (Ike Hamilton), the newest member, young Carl (Tom Sturridge), and the captain responsible for them all, Quentin (Bill Nighy).
Days aboard Radio Rock feel like mere minutes as the crew/DJs takes part in the mantra of the 60s, “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” On the other hand, certain individuals in the British government, namely Twatt (Jack Davenport) and Sir Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh), spend all their days and nights coming up with more laws to spoil Radio Rock’s chances of promoting their music and joie de vivre to the British public. If Radio Rock’s members are less concerned with personal hygiene and display so-called loose morals, Twatt and Sir Dormandy pout stiff upper lips and sport clean-shaven looks at all times. It proves difficult to bring the Rock cheer down: for every clever deterrant the Twatt-Dormandy team concocts, the rebellious crew conjures up another loophole. In fact, the crew even wavers on the brink of death, and still, this is not a challenge that cannot be overcome. Here, The Beatles’ famous line, “All you need is love” cannot be more relevant; love for music, that is.
You may be won over by the characters and music, but the movie’s fairytale-like progression is not as endearing. The camaraderie aboard the ship may be a touch too idealistic. One would like to believe that after a shipmate sleeps with your wife (of only seventeen hours) “to forgive and forget” is not as simple as it sounds. And not to mention young Carl’s revelation that his long-lost father is scruffy, bearded Bob is brought up, and then dismissed almost as an afterthought. It’s a hard-knock life in the rock and roll world, but when all that is displayed is love, loyalty, and too-willing sacrifice for the aforementioned virtues, the pirate rock world is transformed into Peter Pan and the Lost Boys in Neverland.