Richard Curtis, by his own admission, has carved out his career by making modern classic love films. But the Love Actually and Notting Hill creators brand new movie, The Boat That Rocked turns its attention to his other love, music.
The story is based on controversial pirate radio stations in the 1960s, in particular Radio Caroline. It is an ensemble comedy, where the romance is between the young people of the 60s, and pop music. Its about a band of DJs that captivate Britain, playing the music that defines a generation and standing up to a government that, incomprehensibly, prefers jazz.
In 1966 – British pop musics finest era – the BBC played just 2 hours of rock and roll every week. But pirate radio played rock and pop from the high seas 24 hours a day. And 25 million people – over half the population of Britain – listened to the pirates every single day.
Aboard the Radio Rock, the cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans and Nick Frost, get up to mischief, perfectly sound-tracked with classic pop hits from the Rolling Stones and The Kinks among others.
Besides the hi-jinks on the boat runs, what seems from the outset, a more serious storyline about the government plotting how to bring down the pirate radio stations, forced to operate unofficially as they were not given radio licences.
This however provides just as many laughs as the mad-cap DJs and their antics on board. Kenneth Branagh playing a stern Minister Dormandy and Jack Davenport as his assistant prove to be an accidental but hilarious comedy duo.
One of the real stars of the show is Tom Sturridge who plays the shy Carl or Young Carl as he becomes christened when he steps on the boat.
Recently expelled from school, he has been sent by his mother to find some direction in life by visiting his godfather Quentin. However, Quentin is the boss of Radio Rock.
They are led by The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) – big, brash, American, god of the airwaves, and totally in love with the music. He’s faithfully backed up by his co-broadcasters Dave (Nick Frost) – ironic, intelligent and cruelly
funny; Simon (Chris O’Dowd) – super-nice and searching for true love; Midnight Mark (Tom Wisdom) – enigmatic, handsome and man of few words; Wee Small Hours Bob – the late night DJ, whose hobbies are folk music and drugs; Thick Kevin (Tom Brooke) – possessor of the smallest intelligence known to mankind; On-The-Hour John (Will Adamsdale) – the newsreader; and Angus ‘The Nut’ Nutsford (Rhys Darby) – possibly the most annoying man in Britain.
Life on the North Sea is eventful. Simon finds the woman of his dreams and is married on the boat…only to be left by his bride the next day. Gavin (Rhys Ifans) returns from his drug tour of America to his rightful position as greatest DJ in Britain and, in doing so, clashes with the Count. And Carl discovers the opposite sex and who his real father is.
Meanwhile, pirate stations have come to the attention of government minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) who is out for the blood of these lawbreakers. In an era when the stuffy corridors of power stifle anything approaching youthful exuberance, Dormandy seizes the chance to score a political goal and The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act is passed in an effort to outlaw the pirates and remove their ghastly influence from the land once and for all.
What results is a literal storm on the high seas. With Radio Rock in peril, its devoted fans rally together and stage an epic Dunkirk-style hundred boat rescue to save their DJ heroes. Some things may come to an end, but rock ‘n’ roll never dies.