Stating that a film is based on historical fact, even if loosely based, can draw interest from potential audiences. In most cases, viewers are intrigued by a dramatic recreation of actual situations because the characters seem tangible. Although, more often than not, audiences find that these types of films are flawed, stating that the novel was better or that they don’t remember it happening that way. But don’t we all have our own subjective versions of history, especially if we lived through the event? Writer-Director Richard Curtis’ Pirate Radio exemplifies this unavoidable circumstance in telling the story of the 1960’s renegade disc jockeys that took to the airwaves in open waters to the delight of British citizens and loathing of Parliament. Even though the film explicitly states that it is based on this conflict of interests, it is Curtis’ lively interpretation.
The film takes place primarily on a completely fictionalized ship that is home and workplace for the diverse, yet marginalized group of misfits. They broadcast day and night, rocking the tunes for their devoted listeners, much to the dismay of both the BBC and government officials. Although it seems that at least half the population is listening to some form of pirate rock radio, the government will stop at nothing to try and stop the broadcasts. Since they are actually not doing anything illegal, the radio outcasts become radio gods and eventually pseudo-rebels. In the face of adversity, the rock rebels finally have to make their climactic choice in channeling rock n’roll to the masses.
Pirate Radio is chock full of talented actors playing interesting characters in a lively, cool environment. It focuses on the impact and role of these DJs enlisting citizens into the rock revolution. Yet, the film tends to introduce new sub-plots and characters only to neglect them until we have completely forgotten or worse, no longer care. Director Curtis has made other successful films such as Love Actually that are able to juggle multiple storylines, but in this instance it just seems to anchor the ship down. Beyond having a jumbled story, we never get great character development, which is unfortunate with a cast boasting Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the outspoken American DJ, ladies’ man Nick Frost and Bill Nighy as the suave radio owner.
However, let us not forget that the film is about the music and without it this ship may have sunk. The soundtrack includes now British rock staples like The Who, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. It includes other obscure and brilliant pieces that help the convoluted storyline tread the choppy waters. Many of the tracks may not have been recorded before the timeline of the film, but just forget about that. The film never really seems to be true to any vision of real historical fact, so it doesn’t really matter if the music isn’t chronologically correct. The music rocks and conveys Curtis’ vision of the British radio rebellion, even if it is very loosely based. Message broadcasted loud and clear: Long live Rock n’Roll.