Forget about the facts, common sense or good taste for a moment. Consider the circumstances, befitting a comedy, of Pirate Radio. Evidently, there was once a powerful segment of mid-’60s Britain that happened to be utterly tone-deaf. How else to explain these ministers’ inability to hear—or feel—a strutting riff like the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night”? Rock music, while explosively popular, had limited exposure on official radio, leading to the operation of offshore broadcasters (that is, until the government shut them down in 1967). Who can truly say if such rollicking seaborne vessels included the likes of suavely dignified Quentin (Nighy, a dotty delight), DJs like the “Count” (Hoffman) or Kiwi garage-nugget purist Angus (The Flight of the Conchords’ Rhys Darby)? That’s poetic license for you.
Painted broadly and genially by writer-director Richard Curtis (Love Actually), Pirate Radio hasn’t got any real anger to vent. Instead, it goes to extra lengths to give its sour villains an almost Dickensian comic menace. (That’s what you get when you cast Kenneth Branagh.) The bobbing, self-contained universe, occasionally visited by groupies, often feels like a more relaxed deck of Wes Anderson’s ship in The Life Aquatic; while the main plot thrust is the maturation of young Carl (Sturridge) among the lovable crazies, we mostly wander around the boat’s interiors, oohing and aahing at gorgeous period decor. Giggles, not belly laughs, come frequently, and it’ll help if viewers love U.K. comics. When an inevitable Titanic-like finale arrives, one needn’t worry if these vivid characters—or rock & roll—will ever die.—Joshua Rothkopf
Watch the trailer