In 1966, a time when British performers were revolutionizing popular music, the British public had surprisingly few ways to listen to them. The BBC had little interest in broadcasting rock n’ roll, so British fans tuned their radios to “pirate” stations broadcasting from ships anchored in international waters.
(There was a somewhat similar phenomenon in America at about that time. The government did not own the radio stations, but it limited their number and regulated their content. Fans of cutting-edge music tuned to powerful stations broadcasting from Mexico, where the government was inclined to let broadcasters do as they pleased.)
Pirate Radio is a good-natured nostalgic comedy that takes place mostly on “Radio Rock”, a fictitious pirate radio ship. (Claims that the move is “based on a true story” are overblown, though some of the characters are very loosely based on real people.)
A naive young man named Carl (Tom Sturridge) comes to work at the station and is introduced to the oddball crew which includes a brash American DJ called The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the heart-throb DJ Gavin (Rhys Ifans) , the lecherous Dr. Dave (Nick Frost) and Quentin (Bill Nighy) the rather effete captain. The ship is run-down and has a locker room atmosphere since the crew is all male, except for one lesbian (Katherine Parkinson).
Meanwhile in London the pirate radio phenomenon is in the cross-hairs of Sir Alistair Dormandy, an officious Minister played by Kenneth Branagh (and apparently a parody of Tony Benn.) He denounces the stations as “a sewer of of dirty commercialism and no morals.” In one of his more philosophical moments he reflects “That’s the thing about being the Government. If there’s something we don’t like, we just pass a law to make it illegal.” He turns to Twatt (Jack Davenport) a dedicated civil servant, to find a way to make it happen.
The story unfolds as a series of comic vignettes until the closing pincers of the law finally bring things to an over-the-top conclusion.
This movie is a version of the British film The Boat that Rocked which has been re-edited for the American market.