Rock ‘N’ Roll hits the high seas this week as Pirate Radio debuts in theaters from Love Actually and Four Weddings & A Funeral creator Richard Curtis. His latest film will storm the airwaves and movie screens with its unique blend of comedy, history, and some of the best music ever made. This could have been one the most entertaining musical/radio infused films produced, if it wasn’t for its muddled delivery. Find out what went right and what went wrong when we boarded Pirate Radio.

Check out our review…

The Players:

The Plot:

In 1966, the BBC banned the playing of rock and pop music on the radio. In order to combat this, several stations began broadcasting on ship-to-shore radio bands from boats anchored several miles off the coast. This film details the impetuous goings-on aboard one such ship and the officials in the government who seek to bring them down.

The Good:

  • The Music: Obviously the main character in any such rock film is always the soundtrack, which does not disappoint here. From the opening riffs of The Kinks‘ “All Day and All of the Night” to the haunting organ of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, the soundtrack never misses a note. Literally.
  • The Look: Curtis captures the sixties in all of its technicolor glory with fashions that seem ready to hang from a mid-century film’s wardrobe closet and the camera style to match. Combined with the music, Curtis transports the viewer directly into the best time of Rock ‘N’ Roll.
  • Kenneth Branagh: There’s a lot of acting firepower adrift on the high seas in this film, but the show is stolen by one its few landlubbers. Branagh crafts the character of Pirate Radio-loathing Minister Dormandy with an uptight precision that leads to the film’s funniest moments. He is a perfect comedic villain, instantly loathsome, completely powerful, yet totally vulnerable at the same time.

The Bad:

  • The Story, or Lack Thereof: The main problem with this film lies within the central plot. Rather than telling a story about a Pirate Radio ship, Curtis attempts to tell a series of loosely related tales, causing the focus to move from one character to the next with no apparent reason or goal. Instead of concentrating on a central story, the movie tries to tell three (plus dozens of additional sub-plots) and doesn’t tell either of them very well.
  • Too Many Characters: With so many good actors in this film, you don’t need a lot of dead weight hogging the screen. New characters flow in and out without an apparent purpose, often serving as nothing more than a MacGuffin to either reveal something about another character or simply set up a joke. The constant interruption disrupts the already tenuous main story and can often make the movie seem like it’s simply adrift.


Pirate Radio is indeed a lot of fun. There’s plenty of good humor, memorable characters and excellent tunes that allow the movie to overcome its many structural failings. While it would have been nice to see a tighter story, the one it has never becomes anything approaching dull. Go for the music, go for the yucks, go for the style, but don’t go expecting to see a rattling good tale, because you will be disappointed.

Rating: 6.5/10

Pirate Radio opens in wide release on November 13, 2009

Further Reading:

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