It was an unusually warm day in November when I got word that there would be an advanced screening of Focus Features’ newest picture, Pirate Radio. In addition to the screening, I would get the chance to talk with Tom Sturridge, a bit of an acting newcomer who would serve as the film’s lynchpin, and the writer/director of the film, Richard Curtis. Well, I grabbed The Who’s Greatest Hits album, aptly titled after one of their greatest singles, My Generation, jumped in my Chevy and sped away towards midtown Manhattan.
Being a bit of a Richard Curtis fan for his work as a writer on one of Britain’s most celebrated sitcoms ever, Black Adder, and for his directorial debut with Love, Actually, to say I was amped up would probably be an understatement. I had also wanted to desperately see this movie since I had heard of it because I usually enjoy time-period pieces about one of my favorite subjects, the history of TV and radio. What I thought of the film and more after the jump:
All I can say is that my anticipation did not turn to disappointment. Pirate Radio is a wonderfully done coming-of-age story about a young English boy named Carl (Tom Sturridge) whose mother has sent him to one of England’s notoriously famous pirate radio stations where his godfather (Bill Nighy) happens to be the man in charge.
Once aboard the floating piece of history, Carl becomes fast friends with many of the DJs who operate out of the waters surrounding England including an American man simply known as “The Count” (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and another known as Dr. (he’s not a real doctor) Dave (Nick Frost). While there, Carl struggles with the many problems faced by a teenaged lad of the time from drugs, to women, to making friends, and all the while finding out who he is to the greatest rock soundtrack possibly ever put together.
The music is the true driving and uniting force of this movie. When I asked Tom how he got into the character of Carl he replied: “The thing that was really useful was just listening to the music. I think the easiest way to learn about what it’s like to be young in the 60s is to listen to its most eloquent, youthful poets sing about it. So, Rich, gave me an iPod before the film that had every piece of music from 1961-66 on it and I would just constantly listen to the music.” For more from Tom on Pirate Radio, you can listen to Tom Sturridge here.
The music would also serve as the catalyst for much of the action in the movie as back on the shores of merry ol’ England, while Carl is busy finding himself, several members of the Parliament, spearheaded by Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) are trying whole heartedly to shut down the pirate radio stations and this would lead to the movie’s exciting climax that I refuse to spoil here.
When all is said and done, Pirate Radio is a fun to watch romp on the high-seas with a tremendous, star-studded cast, who all deliver fantastic performances. When I asked Richard Curtis how it was trying to direct all this talent at once he said, “I think you just have to tell people the truth at the beginning. All of them knew this was going to be a communal film. We shot it in a particular style with cameras on the cameramen’s shoulders so every scene anybody could be being shot at any moment. So it wasn’t one of those films where you said ‘well this is Phil’s half hour, and this is Nick’s half hour’, the camera just roamed around as we did the scene again and again and I think that meant that everybody joined up in the agreement that it was a democracy, a chaotic democracy.” For more from Richard on Pirate Radio, you can listen to Richard Curtis here.
The best part of this movie is that as absurd as it is at times, it is based off a time when England really did have radio stations based out at sea and that alone brings a smile to my face. I thought Tom Sturridge wasn’t the most likable of main characters, he seemed a bit too stiff and serious at times, but if you like British humor wrapped up in zany situations, then this should be a sure fire winner for you. Now crank up Baba O’ Riley and be sure to see Pirate Radio as it comes out nationwide Friday, November 13th, 2009.