BY JAMIE DAVIS Pirate Radio is basically a coming of age story for young Carl (Tom Sturridge), who is sent to supposedly get on the straight and narrow by living on board his aging hipster godfather’s pirate radio ship anchored off the shore of Britain some time in the mid-1960s. It’s also a story of the rockers vs the squares. You see, in the 1960’s the British government controlled all broadcasting, and refused to play more than 45 minutes of rock n’ roll music a day. But the young folks needed to get their fix somehow, so these pirate radio ships sprang up — anchored in international waters, just beyond the reach of British law — broadcasting rock and pop 24 hours a day.
The ship Carl is sent to live on is basically every teenage rockboy’s dream come true, a hedonistic idyll of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The DJ’s have all their meals prepared by an obliging lesbian, do all the drugs and drinking they want, are surrounded by music, and every second Sunday various women are sent up to the ship to help them get their testosterone out. Although the movie’s basic premise is of Carl watching the big, bad, government is try to shut the ship down, and our heroic DJ’s refusing to be surrender, it’s basically just an excuse to put the ship’s phenomenally great characters into funny situations.
There’s The Count, played by an immensely likeable Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is the lead DJ, and loves nothing more than his music. There’s Quentin (Bill Nighy) the ex-rocker manager of the station, Gavin (Rhys Ifans) the amazingly cool and over-sexed DJ, looking like Liam Gallagher ten years from now, Nick Frost doing what he does best as the witty fat guy, and they even brought in a Jim Morrison (Tom Wisdom) look-alike to play Mark, aka ‘the sexiest man alive.’ Really I could just go on and on, the point is the characters are great and amazingly well acted, and it’s more than enough to just watch them get in and out of rock dude shenanigans and engage in witty British banter. But onshore, the government is doing its damndest to stop the rock. The uptight Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) and his sidekick Mr. Twat will stop at nothing to halt the “pornography” being broadcasted into their country. They make for a convincingly hate-able team, going further and further in their plots to sink pirate radio, resulting in a thrilling, Titanic-like ending.
The British version is called The Boat that Rocked, which I happened to see online. This version is fantastic fun, really just a good stomp-about. In America however, they released a bastardized version and called it Pirate Radio. This version is heavily edited, with a lot of great moments that just get cut right the fuck out. This doesn’t just shorten the movie, it really detracts from the emotional impact of some parts. Especially the romantic subplots, which end up just feeling like slight diversions rather than really hitting home in the American version. Not only that, but I really don’t understand why they would cut out the bits of DJ’s just having fun on board. Watching the movie, you want to be on that ship for as long as possible, spending quality time with the characters. Cutting these parts out just detracts from the experience. Honestly I think it’s just an insult to our intelligence and attention spans that they had to shorten it by twenty minutes. Those were a good twenty minutes. Also, the soundtrack is kind of the best thing ever: The Who, Kinks, Turtles, Hendrix, Bowie, The Rolling Stones. It’s a fantastic track listing, that will hopefully show more recent generations (like mine) what a golden age the 60’s were for rock n’ roll. Long live rock!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jamie Davis is a senior at Kimberton Waldorf High School. He enjoys Blink-182 more than any Thom Yorke fan should.