Pirate Radio

Rock & roll history is being retraced in this appealingly ramshackle comedy from Love Actually writer-director Richard Curtis. Set in England circa 1966, the movie revels in the chaos that ensued when prudes at the BBC decided rock music was an evil that needed censorship and maybe banning. That's when a renegade band of merry-prankster DJs, collectively known as Radio Rock, took to the sea in an old tanker and started broadcasting the devil's music 24/7. The BBC, in the tight-assed person of Kenneth Branagh's government minister, declares war.

Leader of the pirates is Quentin (the sublime Bill Nighy), a man not adverse to drugs and hookers if they keep his DJs spinning. The boat is overloaded with eccentrics, including one American (Philip Seymour Hoffman having a rowdy good time of it) who calls himself the Count and works up a hot feud with DJ Gavin (a terrific Rhys Ifans).

The boat nearly sinks from character overload, and Curtis brakes when you most want him to gun it. But there's no denying the comic energy of the cast. Couple that with blasts of Brit rock from the Beatles and the Stones to Dusty Springfield and David Bowie, and the ship is unsinkable.

From The Archives Issue 318: May 29, 1980
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