The Boat That Rocked (retitled Pirate Radio in North America) is a 2009 British comedy film written and directed by Richard Curtis, with pirate radio in the United Kingdom during the 1960s as its setting. The film has an ensemble cast featuring Philip Seymour HoffmanBill NighyRhys IfansNick Frost, and Kenneth Branagh. Set in 1966, it tells the story of the fictitious pirate radio station "Radio Rock" and its crew of eclectic disc jockeys, who broadcast rock and pop music to the United Kingdom from a ship anchored in the North Sea while the British government endeavours to shut them down. It was produced by Working Title Films for Universal Pictures, and was filmed on the Isle of Portland and at Shepperton Studios.

The film opened 1 April 2009 and was a commercial failure at the British box office, making only £6.1 million in its first twelve weeks, less than a quarter of its over £30 million production cost. It received mixed reviews, with most criticism directed at its muddled storyline and 2¼-hour length. For its North American release it was re-edited to trim its running time by twenty minutes, and retitled Pirate Radio. Opening 13 November 2009, Pirate Radio was still commercially unsuccessful, earning only about US$8 million (approximately £5 million).


 [hide*1 Plot


In 1966, numerous pirate radio stations broadcast to the United Kingdom from ships anchored in international waters, specializing in rock and pop music that is not played on BBC Radio. Seventeen year-old Carl (Tom Sturridge), recently expelled from school, is sent to stay with his godfather Quentin (Bill Nighy), who runs the station "Radio Rock" anchored in the North Sea. The eclectic crew of disc jockeys and staffers, led by the brash American DJ "The Count" (Philip Seymour Hoffman), quickly accept Carl as one of their own.

In London, government minister Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) resolves to shut down pirate radio stations due to their commercialism and low morals, instructing his subordinate Twatt (Jack Davenport) to find legal loopholes that will serve this end. They attempt to cut off the stations' revenue by prohibiting British businesses from advertising on unlicensed radio stations. Quentin counters this by bringing massively popular DJ Gavin Kavanagh (Rhys Ifans) out of retirement and onto Radio Rock, enticing his advertisers to work around the law by paying their bills from abroad. Gavin's popularity creates a rivalry between himself and The Count, who was initially brought to Radio Rock as Gavin's replacement.

On his eighteenth birthday Carl is introduced to Quentin's niece Marianne (Talulah Riley) and falls instantly in love with her, but is heartbroken when she is seduced by Doctor Dave (Nick Frost). Carl's roommate "Thick" Kevin (Tom Brooke) observes that the sex, drug, and alcohol-filled atmosphere of Radio Rock is clearly no place for Carl to get on the straight-and-narrow. He theorizes that the real reason Carl's mother sent him there is that his father—whom Carl has never met—is someone on the ship, with Quentin being the likeliest suspect.

DJ "Simple" Simon Swafford (Chris O'Dowd) marries Elenore (January Jones) in an on board ceremony, but soon learns that she only married him as a means to live on the ship and be with Gavin, with whom she is infatuated. The Count challenges Gavin to a game of chicken in defense of Simon's honor: The two climb one of the ship's radio masts in a clash of egos, reconciling after they are both injured by jumping into the ocean below. When Carl's mother Charlotte (Emma Thompson) visits for Christmas, she denies his suspicion that Quentin is his father. As she departs, Carl passes on a cryptic message from reclusive late-night DJ "Smooth" Bob Silver (Ralph Brown), leading to the unexpected revelation that Bob is actually his father. Soon afterwards, Marianne returns to the ship and apologizes to Carl for sleeping with Doctor Dave. She and Carl have sex that night. The following morning, The Count and the rest of the DJ's announce the news of the event to millions of cheering fans all over Britain.

Meanwhile, Dormandy's mission to ban pirate radio advances when Twatt comes across news of a fishing boat whose distress call was blocked by Radio Rock's powerful signal. Twatt proposes the creation of the Marine Offences Act, which will make pirate radio stations illegal on the grounds that they endanger other vessels. Despite public opinion being heavily in support of the pirate stations, the Act passes unanimously through Parliament and takes effect at midnight on January 1, 1967. The Radio Rock crew choose to defy the law and continue to broadcast, firing up the ship's engine so that they may avoid arrest by relocating. The aging vessel cannot take the strain, causing the engine to explode and the ship to start sinking. The DJs broadcast their position in hope of aid, but Dormandy refuses to send rescue boats. Carl rescues the oblivious Bob from his cabin, while The Count vows to continue broadcasting as long as possible.

With the lifeboats inoperable, all gather on the prow as the ship begins to go down. They are rescued by dozens of fans, who heard about their broadcast predicament, and motored out in fleet of small boats to save them; Carl himself is rescued by Marianne. The Radio Rock ship disappears beneath the sea, with The Count emerging from the sinking vessel at the last moment. Though pirate radio in Britain comes to an end, the music lives on, with rock and pop becoming increasingly popular in subsequent decades, broadcast over hundreds of 'legal' stations around the world.


  • Philip Seymour Hoffman as "The Count", the brash American DJ on Radio Rock. The character is loosely based on Emperor Rosko, a DJ on BBC Radio 1 during the late 1960s and early 1970s.[4][5][6]
  • Tom Sturridge as "Young" Carl, who is sent to stay with his godfather Quentin on the Radio Rock ship.
  • Bill Nighy as Quentin, Carl's godfather, who runs Radio Rock.
  • Will Adamsdale as "News" John Mayford, the station's news and weather reporter.
  • Rhys Ifans as Gavin Kavanagh, a massively popular DJ brought out of retirement by Quentin, leading to a professional rivalry with The Count.
  • Nick Frost as DJ "Doctor" Dave, who unsuccessfully attempts to help Carl lose his virginity and later ends up sleeping with Carl's crush Marianne.
  • Tom Brooke as "Thick" Kevin, Carl's intellectually dense cabin-mate and member of the Radio Rock staff.
  • Rhys Darby as Angus "The Nut" Nutsford, DJ and lone New Zealander on the ship.
  • Katherine Parkinson as Felicity, the lesbian cook and the only single woman permitted to live on the ship.
  • Chris O'Dowd as "Simple" Simon Swafford, Radio Rock's breakfast DJ who marries the too-good-to-be true Elenore only to learn that she is actually in love with another DJ, Gavin. O'Dowd drew inspiration from Tony Blackburn, the morning DJ on pirate station Radio Caroline in the 1960s, and his Irish contemporary Larry Gogan.[7]
  • Tom Wisdom as "Midnight" Mark, Radio Rock's suave night time DJ who rarely speaks but nonetheless has female listeners swooning over him. Known as 'The Sexiest Man on the Planet." In one scene, he is shown in his cabin 'entertaining' about 30 naked women who are part of a large group of fans that visit the ship.
  • Ralph Brown as hippy "Smooth" Bob Silver, "The Dawn Treader" (3-6am shift), Radio Rock's reclusive early-morn DJ who turns out to be Carl's father.
  • Ike Hamilton as Harold, the station's radio assistant.
  • Kenneth Branagh as Sir Alistair Dormandy, a strict government minister who endeavors to shut pirate radio stations down.
  • Sinead Matthews as Miss C (aka Miss Clitt, as revealed in the DVD deleted scenes), Dormandy's assistant who secretly listens to Radio Rock.
  • Jack Davenport as Domenic Twatt, Dormandy's subordinate who is assigned the task of finding legal loopholes that can be used to shut pirate radio stations down.
  • Talulah Riley as Marianne, Quentin's niece, (and a fan of Dave) whom Carl falls instantly in love with.
  • Emma Thompson as Charlotte, Carl's mother.
  • January Jones as Elenore (referred to as a 'goddess' by Quentin, while acting as 'minister'), who marries Simon as a means of getting to be on the ship with Gavin, whom she is actually in love with, the revelation of which ends the sham marriage after just 17 hours, and causes dissension among the group.
  • Gemma Arterton as Desiree, a female fan Dave attempts to trick into having sex with virgin Carl.

Additional minor roles were played by Ian Mercer as the transfer boatman, Stephen Moore as the Prime MinisterMichael Thomas and Bohdan Poraj as Dormandy's subordinates Sandford and Fredericks, Olegar Fedoro as the Radio Rock ship's captain, Francesca Longrigg and Amanda Fairbank-Hynes as Dormandy's wife and daughter, and Olivia Llewellyn as Marianne's friend Margaret who Felicity falls in love with.


[1][2]Principal photography taking place on the steps of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square

The film was written and directed by Richard Curtis and made by Working Title Films for Universal Studios.[8] The producers for Working Title were Tim BevanEric Fellner and Hilary Bevan Jones, with Curtis, Debra Hayward and Liza Chasin acting as executive producers.[9] Principal photography started on 3 March and continued until June 2008.[8] Filming took place on the former Dutch hospital ship Timor Challenger, previously De Hoop, moored in Portland HarbourDorset; the "North Sea" scenes were shot off the coast of Dunbar, East Lothian. Boat interior shots were filmed inside a warehouse in Osprey Quay on the Isle of Portland[10] and at Shepperton Studios.[11] They also visited Squerryes Court in Kent to shoot the scenes of the home of government minister Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Brannagh).[12] The film's production cost exceeded £30 million.[13]

Following the film's commercial failure at the British box office, Focus Features commissioned a re-edited version for release in North American release 13 November 2009.[14][15] Retitled Pirate Radio, this version of the film deleted approximately twenty minutes of footage from the original version to address complaints from several critics that the film's running time was excessive.

North American release[edit]Edit

Following the film's commercial failure at the British box office, Focus Features commissioned a re-edited version for release in North American release 13 November 2009.[16][17] Retitled Pirate Radio, this version of the film deleted approximately twenty minutes of footage from the original version to address complaints from several critics that the film's running time was excessive. A shorter version of the film was released in the United States with the title Pirate Radio. Upon that release, Manohla Dargis wrote:[18]

"Stuffed with playful character actors and carpeted with wall-to-wall tunes, the film makes for easy viewing and easier listening, even if Mr. Curtis, who wrote and directed, has nothing really to say about these rebels for whom rock 'n' roll was both life's rhyme and its reason."

Robert Wilonsky, reviewing Pirate Radio after having seen The Boat That Rocked and its UK home video release, said the U.S. theatrical release had had "most of its better bits excised"; according to Wilonsky, "after watching the DVD,Pirate Radio feels so slight in its current incarnation. Shorn of the scenes that actually put meat on its characters' frail bones, the resulting product is vaguely cute and wholly insubstantial, little more than a randomly assembled hodge-podge of scenes crammed in and yanked out that amount to yet another movie about rebellious young men sticking it to The Grumpy Old Man—this time, with a tacked-on Titanic climax."[19] The marketing campaign for the film's North American release was notable for embellishing the nature of the movie, as well as the historical setting. Trailers had a prominent voice-over announcement stating that "in 1966 the British government banned rock 'n' roll on the radio. Until one American DJ and a band of renegades launched a radio station on the high seas and raided the air waves."[20] In the film, pirate radio transmissions were widespread before parliament passed the Marine Offences Act, including the station portrayed on the film.

The trailer in North America also featured dialog from a scene not in the release; chief among which where a British government minister was being told in a voiceover that the American deejay "The Count" is "possibly the most famous broadcaster ever", which wasn't borne by the actual plot. The trailer and commercials also displayed prominent text that stated "inspired by a true story", which was not claimed by either the production or writing staff.[21]


The film has received generally mixed reviews: it holds a 60% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 149 reviews.[2] The Daily Telegraph credited the film with "some magical moments", but called it "muddled" and criticised its length.[22] Time Out was also critical of the length and said the film was "disappointing".[23] The Hollywood Reporter ran the headline "Rock 'n' roll movie Boat just barely stays afloat", declaring the film too long to sustain interest.[24]Total Film also criticised the film's length and comedic style.[25] Andrew Neil, writing in The Observer, remarked that he was disappointed in the "contrived" storyline and the "unnecessarily perverted" history.[26] Channel 4 reviewed the film more positively, calling it "touching", "heartfelt" and an "enjoyable journey", but ultimately questioned its coherence.[27]

The film's British box office revenues in its first 12 weeks of release were £6.1 million, less than a quarter of its production cost.[13]

In USA, the film earned less than $US 3 million in its first weekend (in a mid-scale release of 882 screens as opposed to 3,404 screens for 2012 and 3,683 screens for A Christmas Carol) and suffered a 49.7% drop-off on its second weekend - earning only $US1.46 million.[28] Pirate Radio took in only about US$8 million (approximately £5 million) in North America.[28]

Historical setting[edit]Edit

Main article: Pirate radio in the United Kingdom[3][4]The MV Mi Amigo, c. 1974, which was the home of Radio Caroline South from 1964-1968

The official synopsis of The Boat That Rocked before release stated that it tells the fictional story about a group of DJs in 1966 who are at odds with a traditionalist British government that prefers to broadcast jazz.[29] According to director Richard Curtis, the film, though inspired by real British pirate radio of the 1960s, is a work of historical fiction and does not depict a specific radio station of the period.[30]


Main article: The Boat That Rocked (soundtrack)*The soundtrack features songs from The KinksThe Rolling StonesThe TurtlesJimi HendrixDuffyProcol HarumBox TopsThe Beach BoysDusty SpringfieldThe Seekers and The Who

  • The soundtrack features 32 songs on two discs. The film itself has a 60-song playlist.[31]

Home media[edit]Edit

Scenes cut from the film but available in at least some of the film's home media releases include:[19]

  • a long scene of late-night sabotage aboard a competitor's vessel;
  • The Count's homage to the Beatles, delivered in front of Abbey Road studios;
  • Gavin Kavanagh in a flashback, dancing in a South American bar to "Get Off of My Cloud";
  • a heartbroken "Simple" Simon lip syncs Lorraine Ellison's "Stay with Me" in its entirety.
Format Release date Additional content
DVD Region 1: 13 April 2010

Region 2: 7 September 2009 Region 4: 12 August 2009[32]

  • Deleted scenes, director's commentary
Blu-ray Region 1: 13 April 2010

Region 2: 7 September 2009[33] Region 4: 12 August 2009

  • Deleted scenes, director's commentary
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