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In 1966, recently expelled from school, Carl (Tom Sturridge) has been sent by his mother (Emma Thompson) to find some direction in life by spending time with his godfather, Quentin (Bill Nighy) who runs Radio Rock, a pirate radio station outside British waters in the North Sea. Carl, who has never learnt the identity of his father, is thrown among the oddball deejays, led by The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who broadcast daily to some 25 million listeners in Britain, starved of pop and rock in a country that's probably British pop music's golden era, yet the BBC playing just 45 minutes a day of the new sounds. As Carl and the music loving disc jockeys get their kicks and live a life of rock n' roll, the Government tries to shut down what they see as a moral attack on English society. Minister Darmody (Kenneth Branagh) makes it his personal mission to kill of Radio Rock and all who sail and rock in her.

Review by Louise Keller:
It matters not whether you were around at the time or not, although, if, like me, you were a teenager in the late 60s, the music will set your toes tapping endlessly. The story relives the days of pirate radio, when rock 'n roll and pop music heard through Britain's airwaves was perhaps not as illicit as drugs, but just as eagerly sought after. The filmmaker is Notting Hill's Richard Curtis, who has not only captured the essence of the time wonderfully but tells a hypnotic story about a group of wacky characters on a boat in the North Sea, who live for the music they play 24 hours a day. The result is a blast. It's a coming of age story with comic elements as well as a reflection of the mood of a generation that embraced the music as a part of their everyday lives.

There is nothing like being on a boat to intensify emotions and relationships. Anyone who has ever cruised for any length of time will vouch for that. Everyone knows everyone's business and there's no escaping anything or anyone. Through the eyes of his recently expelled, rebellious teenage protagonist Carl (Tom Sturridge), Curtis invites us onboard Radio Rock, to live and breathe the crazy life of the fanatic, eccentric rock 'n roll deejays. There's Philip Seymour Hoffman's The Count, who could well have come straight from the set of Almost Famous to take on this strident and dedicated rocker who leads a band of broadcasting misfits. Bill Nighy's Quentin runs the ship (and Nighy is priceless), wearing shades and a slick suit, as he tries to keep ultra cool order.

The storyline travels the path of Carl's inevitable loss of his virginity, but as you would expect, there are hiccups along the way, all of which are hilarious. What can be more amusing than the scene when Carl is talked into swapping places (in the dark) with the overtly 'chunky' Dave (Nick Frost), who is about to make a seduction. There's a side-plot involving Carl's search for the father he has never known and it's a treat to see Emma Thompson in a cameo as Carl's sassy mother. Thompson's ex husband Kenneth Branagh plays the lemon mouthed, square government minister Dormandy intent to find a loophole that will allow the government to legally close the pirate radio stations down once and for all.

There are countless memorable moments (including Rhys Ifans as the infamous Gavin), and a diverse cast of perfectly cast flawed individuals whose faults endear them to us. The music? What can you say about tunes like Silence is Golden, Georgie Girl, Lazy Sunday Afternoon, A Whiter Shade of Pale, Dancin' in the Street, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, This Guy's in Love With You and The Turtle's Eleanor, whose name refers to a bride whose idea of commitment is as unusual as this story's tale? Great editing illustrates the juxtaposition between life onboard Radio Rock and life for the rest of the world who live their lives alongside those of their idols. It really rocks!

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Having lived in London when the pirate radio stations flourished in the 60s, I can easily relate to the subject matter, although the treatment is fanciful. But that's OK, we're talking about rock n'roll, sex and youth, and about having fun. The film tackles the fun part with zeal and the pirate boat bobbing on the North Sea generates enough heat to keep everyone warm. Richard Curtis, with nostalgia bubbling in his veins for the era, portrays the Government's antithesis in farcical terms, which heightens the sense of lunatic party-party-party atmosphere. And while we believe in Kenneth Branagh's character being a cold fish without morals, it doesn't do the film's tone any favours.

Offering us moods that are sometimes satirical, sometimes naturalistic and often plain abandon-yourself-for-pleasure, the film never quite gets the tone right for long enough. But there are some terrific individual scenes, plenty of laughs, a few profound moments and lots of rock and pop music of the 60s.

Bill Nighy is a delight, his mannered performance just right for the role; Tom Sturridge is terrific as the youngster looking for his dad (in this highly likely place; it's the 60s after all); Rhys Ifans outstanding as Gavin, the superstar DJ returning from America to propel Radio Rock further into the nation's ears and hearts; and all the supporting cast of characters who create a sense of community and energy.

Curtis favours collages of ordinary English folk listening to the pirate station, ranging from teen girls to labourers and well coiffed housewives, to kids hiding their transistors under their pillows at night. These devices, along with the stylised moments like pub crawls for a stag party, make the film play like an old fashioned musical. This wouldn't matter if it were one.

But it's churlish to nitpick, since the film has a marvellous sense of defiant, youthful exuberance which is crucial to its success. It's also riddled with music of an era that reverberates with baby boomers and will lift its interest value.

A little stretched and not always focused, the payoff is nevertheless a big one, with an uplifting sequence that perhaps should have been the ending.

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(UK, 2009)

CAST: Bill Nighy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Sturridge, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Chris O'Dowd, Tom Wisdom, Ralph Brown, Tom Brooke, Will Adamsdale, Rhys Darby, Katherine Parkinson, January Jones, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson

PRODUCER: Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan, Hilary Bevan Jones, Richard Curtis

DIRECTOR: Richard Curtis

SCRIPT: Richard Curtis


EDITOR: Emma E. Hickox


RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes



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