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'Pirate Radio' – movie review

The DJs in 'Pirate Radio' thwart a government ban on playing rock 'n' roll and create a bit of gleeful anarchy along the way.

November 13, 2009

In this film publicity image released by Focus Features, Philip Seymour Hoffman, center, and Nick Frost, right, are shown in a scene from "Pirate Radio".

Alex Bailey/Focus features/AP

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I wasn't a big fan of Richard Curtis's sappy-silly "Love, Actually," but the writer-director's new fact-based film, "Pirate Radio" has moments of gleeful anarchism drawing on many hallowed sources of English comedy, including "The Goon Show," the "Carry On" movies, and Ealing Studio comedies such as "The Lavender Hill Mob." In the Golden Age of 1960s rock 'n' roll, the government-backed BBC transmitted only two hours of rock and pop per week. To combat this, pirate radio stations set up shop on tankers in the North Sea, just outside government jurisdiction, and happily played rock hits round the clock to their ravenously appreciative listeners. (This was at a time when The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, and The Rolling Stones ruled.) The movie's pirate crew is a goony, ribald bunch, well played by, among others, Philip Seymour Hoffman (the sole American), Nick Frost, and Bill Nighy. It all unravels in the last half-hour but the best of it has the comradely, free-swinging bawdiness of Robert Altman's "M*A*S*H." An extended version of the film was earlier released in England as "The Boat that Rocked." Grade: B+ (Rated R for language, and some sexual content, including brief nudity.)

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Peter Rainer

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