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WGUC Reviews

Pirate Radio

Pirate Radio
Focus Features
Rated R
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas


Most of us enjoy dipping our big toe into the pool of nostalgia every now and again. The film Pirate Radio had just such appeal for me. It takes place in 1966, my first year on the radio. And since I also had the pleasure of working on a floating station once upon a time, that doubled the anticipation.
The film is written and directed by Richard Curtis, who has talent to spare. He performed the same chores on Love, Actually and About a Boy, both very enjoyable films. He also penned the screenplays for Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones' Diary.

It’s all about the era when the British government forbade the playing of rock and roll on the BBC. Several pirate broadcasters anchored themselves in the waters surrounding Britain and bombarded the country with all the rock and roll their little hearts desired. Obviously such a silly foray into government censorship had no chance of long-term success, but while it lasted, it managed to make heroes of the motley crew of announcers who truly loved what they were doing.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is the only yank on board the vessel Radio Rock. He’s known as “The Count” and anyone who has ever done radio, especially way back when, either worked with, or knew, someone exactly like him. Hoffman, as always, is fine in the role. The eccentric Quentin, played wonderfully by Bill Nighy, owns Radio Rock. Nighy is a great character actor who has also had screen time in two outings of Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as playing a Nazi officer in Valkyrie. Quentin is determined not to give up his venture. Of the rest of the announcers, the only familiar face in the bunch is Nick Frost, who co-starred and co-wrote with Simon Pegg both Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. Kenneth Branagh plays the snarky Minister of Communications who is determined to bring these rock and roll miscreants to justice. He seems to be channeling John Cleese, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are also cameo appearances by January Jones, from the hit TV series Mad Men, and Emma Thompson as well.

The performances are engaging, the music is almost non-stop, and the whole thing is, despite some bittersweet moments, thoroughly terrific... for about the first one hundred minutes. Then something really odd happens. Pirate Radio hits a wall, so to speak, when it does a one-eighty and becomes a totally different movie. I understand the reasoning for what eventually becomes a long, drawn-out conclusion, as it is based on an actual occurrence on one of the ships. However, it’s completely jarring and sucks the joy out of the film for the remaining half-hour or so, which is not only sad, it’s annoying.

Maybe you should go and just stay for the first one hundred minutes. You’ll know when it’s time to leave.

The R-rated Pirate Radio may be seen and heard at the AMC Newport on the Levee, Showcase Springdale and Cinema DeLuxe in Florence, and the Esquire Theatre.


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