In a separate post I paid tribute to the career of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who tragically died last Sunday. He made so many great movies, playing heartbreaking and intriguing characters. Today I'd like to highlight one of his more comic turns, in a movie that many may have missed, Pirate Radio, a British film from 2009, also known as The Boat That Rocked.
The Count broadcasts
The crew rocks out on Radio Rock
Written and directed by Richard Curtis (The Vicar of Dibley, Mr. Bean, Love Actually) the film, set in the 1960s, chronicles a British pirate radio station that dares to play (gasp!) rock and roll. The radio station, dubbed Radio Rock's creative solution to broadcast restrictions is that it is a ship at sea, with a constantly changing location. The British government can't impose its rule of classical music only on the radio or shut it down, if they can't even find it. Hoffman plays an American DJ known as The Count, who bristles when another radio god, the popular British DJ Gavin (Rhys Ifans), joins the crew to boost ratings and challenge The Count's supremacy.
The Count, "You know, a few months ago, I made a terrible mistake. I realized something, and instead of crushing the thought the moment it came I ... I let it hang on, and now I know it to be true. And I'm afraid it's stuck in my head forever. These are the best days of our lives. It's a terrible thing to know, but I know it."
A virtual who's who of British comedians and actors make up the rest of the eclectic crew. Bill Nighy plays Quentin, who runs Radio Rock; DJs "Doctor" Dave (Nick Frost), "Simple" Simon Swafford (Chris O'Dowd); young Carl (Tom Sturridge), who's mother (Emma Thompson) has sent to spend time on the seas with his godfather Quentin. The only bum note in the film is Kenneth Branagh as Sir Alistair Dormandy, an unpleasant and uptight government minister who is bound and determined to shut down the rock and roll station. There isn't an ounce of humor in his performance, which is a shame, for both the audience and Jack Davenport who plays his assistant, Twatt. If only Curtis had called on Rowan Atkinson to play the role ...
Branagh aside, Pirate Radio is laid back and amusing, and also manages to capture the excitement and even dangerous quality of early rock and roll, and a time when it really seemed like music could and would change the world. Hoffman's character embodies that spirit of freedom completely and he emerges as the heart and soul of the film. It's really worth a look. And it has a great soundtrack, too of over 50 songs, including artists like The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Supremes, and The Hollies.
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