The Boat that Rocked
In the summer of 1966, the British Invasion was at its peak, and England
had become the rockingest, rollingest country on Earth. There were the Beatles
and the Stones and a host of others. Meanwhile, Motown was at its peak and a
whole new heavy-metal sound was developing in the USA. Plus the rockabilly and
the doo-wop songs were still blanketing the airwaves. It was a great time for
rock and roll. Unfortunately, the government of the UK didn't quite see it
that way, and the BBC stations were playing classical and progressive jazz
most of the time.
To meet the public demand for pop music in the UK, pirate stations started
broadcasting from boats in international seas just outside of British
territorial waters. Thus began a battle between the pirates and Her Majesty's
government for the soul of British youth. This is a movie about that struggle,
focusing on one boat called Radio Rock.
The film was written and directed by Richard Curtis, who did Love Actually
and Four Weddings and a Funeral. It stars some of the best comic talent in the
British Isles, like Rhys Ifans and Bill Nighy. It features Philip Seymour
Hoffman as the token American DJ aboard the Radio Rock ship. It even features
sort of a reunion between Kenneth Brannagh and Emma Thompson, although they
have no scenes together. The sound track is a celebratory non-stop broadcast
of the hits of 1966 and 1967, which are always in the foreground or
background, although it surprisingly seems to favor American groups over the
great British Invasion bands.
Although it has a few laughs, The Boat That Rocked is not wildly funny.
Although there is a historical backdrop, the story is not meant to be historically accurate,
or even plausible. It's more of a fantasy film, and it's kind of a mawkish one
at that. Frankly, I have no
problem with Richard Curtis having ignored the facts, or having skipped the
jokes, or having worn his heart
on his sleeve in this case, because the love object in this romance is not a
woman, but classic rock music, and I share his passion. The period covered by
this film is my senior year of high school, the summer afterward, and my
freshman year of college - the years which were the greatest times of my young
life. Mid-sixties rock is the music that reminds me of my old friends and
connects to all my happiest boyhood memories. Plus the people in this film are
some of my favorite performers. So I gotta admit that I pretty much loved
every minute of this movie and don't want to be analytical about its flaws and
failings. I'm not even going to complain that it went on too long, because
that two hours and nine minutes flew by for me, and I dropped everything else
I was doing so that I could concentrate on the music and the story. It's the
most blatantly, unabashedly sentimental love poem to rock and roll since
Almost Famous, and Phil Hoffman is a character-acting God, so I'm going to
stop typing now and watch it again.
And I'll sing along, dammit. And remember.
Fuck it, I might even dance.
If you are nostalgic for the music and energy of 1966 and 1967, join me.
Rotten Tomatoes: 55% positive
British box office: it opened in April and grossed about US$9m. It did
about the same in France. It bombed in Germany, taking in only about a
million bucks. It is scheduled for a US release in November, but that may be
wrong because it is also scheduled for a Blu-Ray release next week. (I wish
I could recommend it, but the price is a ridiculous $75. It will come out
next month on Region 2 DVD, and the price there is normal - about twenty
Only a few seconds of female nudity, but
that brief scene did
manage to get approximately every woman in England naked. The boat holds a
contest for its listeners, and the winners get to tour the boat. About a
hundred would-be groupies end up getting naked for "Midnight Mark," the sexy