by Srijon Mukherjee
It’s the sixties.
The rock ‘n’ roll revolution is just starting. The Beatles are all set to rule the world, The Rolling Stones have just started gearing up, The Kinks are already ruling parts of it, and you want to be the person broadcasting this wonderful new rage and spreading it to the rest of the world.
Only one problem. BBC, the single superpower at the time, enjoys supreme government aided monopoly, and will have none of this madness.
What do you do?
Why, set sail, and broadcast over international waters, of course!
‘The Boat That Rocked’ ( ‘Pirate Radio’ in the USA), released in 2009, and directed by Richard Curtis, takes us on a journey following a group of dopeheads out on the sea, sharing and broadcasting to the world, the only thing they might love more than their drugs: their record collection.
Carl, a seventeen year old teen, who’s expelled from his school for smoking, is sent to this boat by his mother as a means of retribution. Though at first it seems like a very ironic move, sending a teen expelled for smoking to a boat full of drugheads, it’s later seen that she did it as his father who he’d never met, was a DJ on the same boat. The group quickly accepts him as one of their own, and together, they sail through the seas broadcasting music, and thwarting government minister Alistair Dormandy’s attempts to shut them down.
Never has a more quirky and idiosyncratic group of people traveled the seas:
Thick Kevin (“He’s just really really.. thick”), who in a game of dumb charades, describes Jesus as a really nice guy who wears a dress and has a beard (unaware that Jesus is known as the 'son of God'), is one of the DJs on board the boat.
Dave, played by Nick Frost, (no, Simon Pegg does not feature in the film) is an intelligent and witty disc jockey with a snarky sense of humor.
Quentin, played by the charming and charismatic Bill Nighy, is the leader of the group and runs a tight ship (pun very intended), constantly making fools of the government officals trying to shut them down.
Gavin Kavanagh, dubbed ‘The Greatest DJ In Britain’ is a scarily popular DJ with the voice of the Devil, making the ground beneath the listener’s feet tremble with lust.
The Count, played by THE Philip Seymour Hoffman, is the coolest of the cool. Brought in as a replacement to Gavin when he retired (only to return later when Quentin asks him), he is massively popular and loved among the group.
The movie is based on real events, with some of the characters being loosely based on famous pirate radio personalities, like Kenny Everett, and Johnnie Walker. The boat seen in the movie is also a loose adaption of Radio Caroline, a pirate radio station founded in 1964. The rule ’No women allowed on the boat’ also features in the movie, though it’s twisted humorously, with a lesbian being the only woman allowed on board. Also included in the UK version is a homage to Jimi Hendrix's iconic album 'Electric Ladyland', where a character is seen to be lying amongst a group of naked groupies who are placed exactly as the women in the album cover are.
In dealing with the events that took place during the 60s, the film pays excellent tribute to the music of that time, featuring a vast soundtrack, featuring tracks by Leonard Cohen, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks, The Beatles, and many more. Passion for music is a very strong theme throughout the movie, highlighted by how it brings together such different and eccentric personalities together on a boat, working together for a common cause. The love for rock is of a particular and amorous kind, and the members of the boat share it like it's the last fucking day of the world. Watching them at it could make any rock 'n' roll believer tear up and shout "Rock n Roll forever" at the screen, without feeling silly.
Maybe even a non-believer, who knows.
A word here, about The Count. While Gavin’s voice may be temptation and lust personified, the Count’s voice is the voice of passion. And when he’s not talking and making others believe, it’s almost if he’s always sitting there with a glass in his hand, ready to raise it to you if you share his love and passion. Rock ‘n’ Roll is to him, what America is to the stereotypical America-loving American. Funny how he’s American too, in the movie. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays him to utmost perfection, and has never looked cooler, with the blonde bangs and scruffy beard matched with perfect shades.
Rock ‘n’ Roll will never die. It’s shaped the youth and provided them with a voice raw and impossible to ignore. It’s an eternal omnipotent force of nature that will only evolve continuously, just as we do. Fifty years into the future, rock ‘n’ roll has served as weapon for peace, a weapon for change, and a weapon for self expression. You could try to oppress it and shut it down, but the only thing you’d actually achieve would be to provide the people you’re opposing with new inspiration for new music.
This film pays perfect homage to the crazy rebels, the heroes who lived at sea, opposed the government, and enjoyed it. They enjoyed every minute of it, and they made sure you enjoyed every minute of it, with the music that shaped the world, played on the boat that rocked the world.
And to end things, here’s a larger than life quote that I swear by, made by the Count when he’s almost certain he and his comrades will draw their last breath on the boat (God bless him, if it’s possible to bless fictional characters) :
“To all our listeners, this is what I have to say - God bless you all. And as for you bastards in charge, don't dream it's over. Years will come, years will go, and politicians will do fuck all to make the world a better place. But all over the world, young men and young women will always dream dreams and put those dreams into song. Nothing important dies tonight, just a few ugly guys on a crappy ship. The only sadness tonight is that, in future years, there'll be so many fantastic songs that it will not be our privilege to play. But, believe you me, they will still be written, they will still be sung and they will be the wonder of the world. “