Okay all you Mods and Rockers, let's get this out of the way up front. 'The Boat that Rocked' is not about Radio Caroline, it's about a Pirate Radio Station like Radio Caroline, called Radio Rock. I mention this at the very outset to save many people saying that the film is not factually correct and accurate. It is a work of fiction that draws upon some real life events as the basis for an entertaining movie.
Now then all you pop pickers, let's get on to the movie itself.
Richard Curtis' film hit the cinema screens earlier this year and seemed to vanish almost as quickly as it appeared. Why? It's not a bad film at all. It's a British film, made in a British film studio with a British (largely) cast and crew. Could it be, perhaps, that it was too British? At the time of its release I was amazed at the apparent lack of PR effort that went into its promotion and also just how many people were unaware of its existence or even what it was about - and this was in Britain!
Coming from a Writer/Director like Curtis who previously gave us 'Love Actually' and who also scripted 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', 'Notting Hill' and 'Bridget Jones' - it boasts an impressive cast including the naturally funny Bill Nighy, the languid streak that is Rhys Ifans, the stunning American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, our very own luvvy Kenneth Branagh and the equally luvvy Emma Thompson.
Maybe a lot of people, like me, wanted to see it but, as it wasn't around for very long, missed out. Thank goodness for Blu-ray giving us the opportunity to watch it in a format that rivals the quality of a cinema presentation.
So what's the story?
Back in 1966, the BBC struggled to play the kind of music that the youth of the day (like me) wanted to hear for more than an 45 minutes a day. This left the way open for Pirate Radio Stations (i.e. those operating without a licence) to fill the gap with a staple diet of Pop, Rock, Blues and many other toe tapping types of music.
Radio Rock is one such station, floating in a converted ice breaker in the North Sea.
We join the motley crew, just as young Carl (Tom Sturridge) arrives on board, having been expelled from school. He meets his godfather, Quentin (Bill Nighy), for the first time in his life who just happens to be in charge.
Quentin: So your mum sent you here in the hope that a little bracing sea air would sort you out?
'Young' Carl: Something like that.
Quentin: Spectacular mistake!
The young lad is introduced to the rich collection of characters and misfits who are the on board DJs including Doctor Dave (Nick Frost), 'Simple' Simon Swafford (Chris O'Dowd) and the legendary Count (Philip Seymour Hoffmann) to name but a few who all have one thing in common - they are all passionate about their music.
Meanwhile, back on shore in Blighty, the spoilsport British Government is concerned that the Pirates are invading the airwaves and Minister Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) appoints a man called Dominic Twatt (now you know it's a comedy) played by Jack Davenport, to come up with a scheme to stamp them out.
Various ruses like using PR to alienate the Pirates by running a newspaper story to the effect that someone died due to radio Pirates using a frequency reserved for the emergency services are considered. The only fly in the ointment is that nobody actually died.
As one of the British Government's schemes has adversely affected the station's advertising revenue, Quentin reveals his trump card - the return of renowned DJ and sex God Gavin Cavanagh, played with gusto by Rhys Ifans. Amost immediately there is rivalry between him and The Count to be top dog on the ship, resulting in a death defying, mast climbing 'chicken' challenge.
One of the funniest points in the film has to be where The Count plans to use the 'F' word live on radio. As the British nation waits with bated breath, he's persuaded at the last minute by Quentin not to do it, but the mic is 'accidentally' left open in the studio so the public hears Quentin use a stream of expletives instead.
Along the way there are attempts to help young Carl lose his virginity, hampered by Doctor Dave who may be the official condom supplier aboard the boat although not the world's best match maker.
Kenneth Branagh clearly relishes his role as Sir Alistair Dormandy, the personification of the British stiff upper lip. In one scene, a Christmas lunch, Sir Alistair unrolls the joke from his cracker and pronounces it “Quite funny” while his meanness of spirit precludes him from reading it aloud and sharing it with the rest of his family.
Emma Thompson turns up, uncreditted, as young Carl's Mum, Charlotte, on a flying visit and it transpires that she was a bit of a swinger in her younger days, leading to some conjecture as to the identity of his father. Could it be Quentin? Could it be one of the DJ's? Who knows?
As the story unfolds, the attempts by the British Government to close down the station escalate as do Quentin's solutions to the problem - culminating in a rousing ending, but I'm not going to tell you what it is.
Despite all the shenanigans of the storyline, it's the music that really makes the film live. Hits from the likes of The Kinks, The Turtles, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Beach Boys, The Who and The Tremeloes come thick and fast, placing this movie in time while pulling back memories of where we were when we first heard the tracks on our transistor radios.
As a movie it lacks a strong, dramatic storyline but it has a generally light, humorous touch which makes a refreshing change from the heavy material we see so frequently. It's a generally pleasant confection about a bunch of people doing something different that has a certain nostalgic feel to it thanks to the link with the '60's and Pirate Radio. The film has repeatability as you can relax at the end of a tiring day with it and know that while it may not tax your brain, there will be a few chortles on the ocean wave and there's always the music to enjoy.
It's a movie that grows on you more with each viewing, so if you haven't seen it yet then it's arrived just in time to brighten the cold, dark nights. Go on, give this disc a spin!
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