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Boat That Rocked, The


Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Tom Sturridge, Tallulah Riley, Gemma Arterton, Nick Frost

Director: Richard Curtis

It's a great idea to make a film about North Sea pirate radio ships (when songs actually had something to say), but you have to ask exactly what writer-director Curtis (of Love, Actually fame) is trying to do with it here. It seems that, unsure whether the theme could sustain a two-and-a-quarter hour film, he decided to saddle it with scenes of startling silliness.

In some ways, his film reminds you of those early British rock 'n' roll comedies of the 1960s in which interfering officials were figures of fun. Although even they were not as broadly drawn as the Minister (Branagh, perhaps auditioning for the Arthur Lowe role in a new series of Dad's Army) here, who has a silly wife (Francesca Longrigg) and an ideas man called Twatt (Jack Davenport).

Our hero, Carl (Sturridge) joins the good ship Radio Rock at the invitation of his godfather (Nighy) who's also the ship's friendly boss. There's an American (Hoffman), the godlike Kavanagh (Ifans) and assorted larger-than-life characters, all deejaying merrily away to the fury of the UK government.

There's a girl (Riley) for Carl to lose his virginity with, and a visit from his mother (an almost unrecognisable Emma Thompson), but that's bizarrely followed by a scene in which Carl's surrounded on board by dozens of naked females.

Rivalry between Hoffman and Ifans, culminating in a mast-climbing contest, works quite well, and we feel sympathy for the characters at last when the boat's sinking, only for this to be undercut when they're rescued by a fleet of motor-boats manned by mini-skirted girls and the various fans we've seen rocking to the radio throughout this absurdly overlong movie (which has now been trimmed by about eight minutes).

The switches from character comedy-drama to broad, even crass farce play havoc with the film's rhythm, not to mention such anachronisms as 'smoking gun', which surely wasn't around in 1966. The occasional perceptive line - 'Young men and women will always dream dreams and put those dreams into song' -
indicate a slightly more 'emotional' path the film might have explored rather more.

The music is great, But then, being a child of the sixties, I would say that. At the end Hoffman tries to go down with the ship, but Curtis has beaten him to it.

David Quinlan

UK 2009. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour by deluxe.
143 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 27 Mar 2009