Ship the light fantastic – The Boat That Rocked DVD review

The Boat That Rocked – Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Nick Frost and Rhys Ifans. Directed by Richard Curtis. Rated M for coarse language, sexual references and nudity. 129 mins. By Simon Miraudo.

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with rock and roll. Following my grandfather’s passing, I was sent into his attic to clear out any boxes that might lay there. I uncovered the entire Beatles back catalogue on vinyl, signed by each member of the band. Apparently, my granddad had got to know the Liverpudlians when they played Melbourne back in ’64. As my father later told me, pop had shared the weekend of his life with Paul, John, George and Ringo, and maintained friendships with the lot of them until the day he died. As a tribute to my late grandfather, I ploughed through each LP on his old record player, opening up my eyes to a brand new world of wonder.

Actually, none of that is true. But doesn’t it sound nice? It’s certainly more appealing than the truth, which is quite simply that I worked at a record store for several years and educated myself accordingly. But sometimes the truth doesn’t accurately describe the significance that music can have on your life, or even the role it plays in defining generations. The Boat That Rocked is no documentary. It takes a more fantastical approach to good old rock and roll, painting in large brush strokes with striking, cotton-candy colours.

Taking his cue from A Hard Day’s Night, Richard Curtis’ latest is a rollicking music video of a movie. Based on the pirate radio stations of the sixties, The Boat That Rocked tells the fictional tale of a boatload of sex-crazed, alcohol-swilling and (presumably) drug-addled rock and roll DJ’s. Radio Rock sits anchored off the English coast, broadcasting to over 20 million music-starved Brits. On board and on the air are The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman, once again channeling Lester Bangs), lady-killers Gavin (Rhys Ifans) and Dr Dave (Nick Frost), the unlovable Angus (Rhys Darby) and the ultra lovable Simple Simon (Chris O’Dowd). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The story begins when the station’s boss Quentin (a sadly underutilised Bill Nighy) welcomes his virginal godson Carl (Tom Sturridge) aboard. Apparently Carl’s been sent there to get straightened out after having been caught smoking. This is not the boat you get straightened out on. Meanwhile, the DJ’s of Radio Rock are angering politician’s big time. Why? Well, because politicians are squares man! And that’s about the only reason given, but I’m willing to go along with it. Kenneth Branagh hams it up as a British Minister intent on shutting the station down.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the volume of characters I’ve described, you’re not alone. Curtis needed to take a sharp pair of scissors to this script before setting sail into production. There are too many characters, too many tales, and too many minutes for what should have been a breezy comedy. Plot threads are raised, and then dropped in favour of newer ones. Characters disappear for large stretches of time. The only constant is Branagh’s vindictive politician and his quest to get pirate radio banned. Sadly, this is the least interesting aspect of the film. I would have much rather stayed aboard Radio Rock and enjoyed their anarchic adventures.

For all its flaws, The Boat That Rocked is a hard movie not to love. Like Carry On meets Help! Curtis injects his earnest Britishness into a subject well worth being proud of – rock and roll. The soundtrack is blisteringly infectious, and even the inclusion of some well worn classics is welcome. However, Curtis seems intent on making THE GREATEST MUSIC MOVIE OF ALL TIME, just as Love Actually was meant to be THE GREATEST ROMANTIC COMEDY OF ALL TIME. Neither film earns that distinction, although The Boat That Rocked gets closer. At the very least, it will have you feeling all gooey and nostalgic about a time you may not have been around for. And if you were, well, if you’re anything like the crew of Radio Rock, you probably wouldn’t remember it anyway.


Check out my other reviews here.

The Boat That Rocked hits DVD on August 12th.

One Response to “Ship the light fantastic – The Boat That Rocked DVD review”

  1. NB: The Boat That Rocked will have 20 minutes of material cut for its American release in November.'m looking forward to reevaluating the shorter cut of the film.

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