With one of the best soundtracks in recent memory, a solid and colorful ensemble cast and a plethora of wit and humor, Richard Curtis’ “Pirate Radio” could have easily worked as a Broadway musical. On the big screen, however, it serves as reminder of how incredibly fun cinema can be when you’re willing to look past obvious flaws and appreciate the heart and passion behind a production.
Encompassed with a playful wit and oozing with style, “Pirate Radio” makes you forget about the fact that the story ends up in a perfectly tied bow and that in spite of turning in solid performances as the Count and Twatt, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Jack Davenport essentially reprise their roles as Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous” and Norrington in “The Pirates of Caribbean.” It also makes you forgive the fact that the film seems to run a bit long and even though you’ve had a blast with the crew on-board Rock Radio, you’re ready to head home and remember the good times, rather than continue on.
In the ’60s, there were 25 million Brits listening to pirate radio stations and “Pirate Radio” is the tale of “Rock Radio,” the biggest and best one in the UK. While the film has a main focus, as the combination of Sir Alistair Dormandy [Kenneth Branagh] and Davenport are out to shut down all the pirate radio stations, it’s the journey with the crew of Rock Radio that’s more important. Just like Branagh and Davenport are willing to do anything to squash the fun and allure of the pirate radio scene in England, the crew of rock radio will do anything for their music, [including sleeping with each others wives after just 17 hours of marriage]. By the end of the story, there isn’t much you wouldn’t want to do for them. Together from start to finish, the crew proves not only their conviction for the tunes of their times, but for each other and the freedom of their listeners as well.
Sure, they’re a bunch of horny, ill-mannered music lovers living for the moment, but by the end of the voyage, they’ll be the reason why the film is offbeat, fun and different from everything else currently in theaters.
By contrast, seeing Branagh and Davenport live so conservatively and try and uphold traditional lives, void of any type of thrill and adventure [Christmas in the house of a British politician is like bingo at a deaf person’s house. Something’s going on, but even if you could hear it, it’s not the least bit fun] is hilarious and makes the free-love, pot smoking, censorship-hating and music-loving experience on the boat that much enjoyable. Ever pompous and uptight, Branagh is the perfect contract to the effervescent and smooth Nighy, who is not about to give up his fight for freedom of the airwaves.
While the story is great and keeps you entertained throughout, with a soundtrack consisting of everyone from the Kinks to Otis Redding, it’s the music is what fuels the sometimes whimsical, but endearing tale. Feeling like a Broadway performance in the fact that while young Carl, played by Tom Sturridge [“Being Julia,” “Like Minds”] is looking for something in his life, including a woman and his long-lost father and this is why we are watching the film, there are so many side stories and great characters along for the ride that you sometimes lose track of your coordinates. With capable hands on-deck like Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Branagh and Rhys Ifans, its easy to lose your bearings, but Curtis does a decent enough job keeping his ship on course and at least giving the audience some type of closure as far as the main story goes.
Serving as Dramamine for the soul, the exploits of Hoffman, Frost and Ifans, among the rest of the crew, do a fantastic job of giving the film a character and essence that fans of films such as “Almost Famous,” and “Run Fatboy, Run,” will appreciate the most. The topics at hand are serious ones that affect the lives of many, but the film never takes itself too seriously. Everyone on-board Rock Radio is out for the moment and as a result, so are you.
Because of this, “Pirate Radio,” is a ship that almost gets lost at sea, but is saved by its core of actors and a soundtrack that seems to read the audience’s mind.
For example, when Carl meets his lady interest, the scrumptious Marianne, [Talulah Riley], for the first time, Redding’s “These arms of mine” jumps in as soon as they make eye contact, making Riley that much more adorable and their encounter a memorable one. Seeing what happens later gives the film a small dose of unpredictability, but keep the voyage light on the mind and easy on the stomach.
In the end, you want to see more of her just because of the mystique surrounding her and the music that accompanied her first appearance.
Nevertheless, while it is the music that ultimately makes “Pirate Radio” a winner, it is the brevity of the cast and an enjoyable and delightful story of perseverance and loyalty that get it back to port in the end.
You may have a better time at theaters this winter with other films, but this one have you smiling and tapping your feet throughout.