Possibly it was the high altitude, or maybe just because I was trapped on a plane, but I managed to sit through Richard Curtis’s The Boat That Rocked in its entirety. Although the film takes a point in recent history that’s so fascinating that you may find it incredible that the idea isn’t already taken, the film manages to make a complete fudge of depicting pirate radio in the 1960s.
Curtis employs a couple of his usual regulars, Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans, and adds Philip Seymour Hoffman in what should have been inspired casting. Familiar faces also include Nick Frost, the brilliant Ralph Brown (from Withnail and I) and two stars of The IT Crowd who play their usual gormless selves. Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson also appear again the the same cast, although they don’t get to meet onscreen. All the actors do their best but this is a film that only barely reaches Carry On credibility; skilled performers reduced to delivering their usual turns (specifically with Nighy and Ifans). Imagine the call:
Oh hi Bill, it’s Richard here. Yeah, not so bad thanks. I was wondering – could you turn up for a few days filming please and do your usual? Yes, it’ll be a full Bill Nighy turn. Insoucience, slightly camp etc. Okay, speak later – need to call Rhys and get him to repeat his Peter Cook impersonation.
The Boat That Rocked is set in 1966, the year before pirate radio was brought to an abrupt halt. Branagh and Jack Davenport play nasty men from the ministry who, by hook or by crook, plot the end of the seafaring DJs. As you might typically expect, the film includes a rich soundtrack from the era, although the music doesn’t appear to be confined to ’66 and resembles the soundtrack to Heartbeat with its anything from the 60s will do approach. Similarly, fashion and decor looks suitable from the era although just as little research probably went into styling the film.
What’s ultimately irritating about this movie is its sheer laziness of script and characterisation. The pirate radio stars don’t come across as stars at all, just a bunch of stupid idiots, which too many frankly embarrassing scenes where the repetition of the word ‘lesbian’ just isn’t amusing. The dialogue remains embarrassingly sexist throughout and Curtis seems unable, or unwilling, to write substantial female characters. The appreciation of pirate radio by the British public goes little further than shots of people at home or at work, generally going about their business, stopping and enjoying the hilarious radio sounds. Similar in fact to the Radio 2 tv ads from a couple of years back.
The Boat That Rocked isn’t terrible, just disappointing. It’s a bit of a waste of time, although it isn’t a crime against cinema. That award goes to the new Terminator movie…