The Boat That Rocked

The Boat That Rocked


Reviewed by: George Williamson

In the mid 1960s radio in the UK was a turgid affair, the BBC limited to less than an hour of popular music programming each day before resuming the normal broadcast of propaganda and kitten strangling old time tunes. The sole beacons of hope for the oppressed masses were the pirate radio stations; ships floating in the north sea and broadcasting rock and pop 24 hours a day to brighten their otherwise entirely cheerless lives. The only cloud on the horizon is the curmudgeonly government killjoy Kenneth Brannagh who has made it his goal in life to silence Radio Rock and free the minds of the young from their corrupting influence with his Marine Broadcasting Offences Act that should sink pirate radio for ever.

The Boat That Rocked is another lamentable mainstream Britcom that would be embarrassing on an obscure television channel and is inexplicable at the cinema; a depressingly mainstream plot played out by one-dimensional pantomime heroes and villains. Richard Curtis' film is suffused with rose-tinted nostalgia and cherry-picked historical references, avoiding anything too controversial, historically accurate or differing from the story that he wants to tell of these heroic DJs on the high seas. Unending jaunty montages with a swingin' Sixties soundtrack (that the Monkees' producer would have rejected for being too naff) begin to grate long before the film is over and the side plot of our young drippy hero's search for his mysterious missing father is as predictable as it sounds (even with Emma Thompson turning up as his ageing sex kitten mother).

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Almost everyone involved is running with tried and tested TV roles - but this time in groovy retro fancy dress. Nick Frost is playing Nick Frost - ie generic matey comic relief - but in NHS glasses. Chris O'Dowd is a sad and lonely soul - exactly the same as he is in The IT Crowd, but with far fewer funny gags. Rhys Darby is exactly like his inept New Zealander, Murray, from Flight Of The Concordes, but in chunky knits instead of bad suits. However, Rhys Ifans is the prime offender, resurrecting his dire DJ performance from Kevin And Perry Go Large - only this time in a velvet hat. The only person who seems to be taking any of this remotely seriously is Philip Seymour Hoffman, and it shows as he's actually quite good (even if he's just rehashing his Lester Bangs role from Almost Famous).

Curtis may be trying to show his love for the offshore stations of the Sixties, but Ifans and Frost's casually chauvinistic roles are clearly influenced more by modern shock DJs like Chris Moyles, and by the end of the film most viewers will be siding with the absurdly caricatured Minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) and his greasy sidekick with the hilariously infantile name, Mr Twatt (Jack Davenport). Hopefully this won't start a trend so we end up with an acid-house themed sequel where Rhys Ifans plays a semi-fictional version of Liam Howlett, single-handedly fighting the government in the name of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act through his band PrecociousChild.

The saddest thing about the film is that the story of the rise and fall of the pirate radio stations is genuinely sociologically interesting. It paved the way for modern radio - BBC Radio 1 was launched only six weeks after the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act was passed - and could make a great documentary in the right hands, but instead The Boat That Rocked is just another bit of formulaic post Carry-On awfulness that feels as dated as the era it's portraying. John Peel would turn in his grave.

Reviewed on: 07 Apr 2009
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The Boat That Rocked packshot
The story of a boat-based pirate radio station which the government tries to ban.
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Read more The Boat That Rocked reviews:

Stephen Carty **1/2
Jennie Kermode **

Director: Richard Curtis

Writer: Richard Curtis

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Tom Sturridge, Nick Frost, Rhys Ifans, Kenneth Branagh, Chris O'Dowd, Talulah Riley, January Jones, Emma Thompson

Year: 2009

Runtime: 135 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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