Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pirate Radio

A really unpleasant neighbor can ruin most movies. A very uncomfortable seat can make a mess of an afternoon movie, too. I watched Pirate Radio today next to an extremely unpleasant person (not my fellow reviewer!) in a chair designed for torture, and I still had a good time. Pirate Radio is an entertaining romp that is very loosely based on the history of "pirate" radio stations anchored in international waters off the coast of Britian in the 1960's.

The story is fairly straightforward, with a subplots that engage nicely. I was surprised to find out that the film was released in the UK as The Boat that Rocked, and it was a critical and boxoffice failure. Re-edited and re-packaged, it was released in the U.S., but I still felt that the advertising did a poor job of describing the film. It conveys the silliness and rebellious mood of the mid-1960's, but its history is badly mangled. Better to market it as a romp than as a history.

Some great tidbits: much of the vintage equipment is from Radio Caroline, a real pirate radio station from a slightly later period. Katherine Parkinson turns in a cheerful performance as the lesbian cook and manager on board, but I wondered whether the screenplay portrayed accurately the attitude a bunch of male 1960's DJ's would have about her in real life. Emma Thompson is wonderful as an appalling mother; her performance is one of the best in the film. January Jones looks to be making a career of playing strange women from the period; fans of TV's Mad Men may wonder what Betty Draper is doing on that boat. While all the women are fun to watch, none of the women characters in the film ring true.

I'm giving this film a moderate "thumb's up." I had a really good time: there were many actors I like, lots of music I liked, and the whole thing added up to "silly fun." Great cinema? Not for a minute. But if you are nostalgic for music of the era, if you love radio, this film is worth a look.


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