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The Boat That Rocked

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The Boat That Rocked

Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Curtis
Produced byTim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Hilary Bevan Jones
Written byRichard Curtis
StarringPhilip Seymour Hoffman
Bill Nighy
Rhys Ifans
Nick Frost
Kenneth Branagh
Talulah Riley
CinematographyDanny Cohen
Editing byEmma E. Hickox
Working Title Films
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Focus Features
Release date(s)1 April 2009 (2009-04-01)
(United Kingdom)
02009-11-13 13 November 2009
(United States)
Running time135 minutes
(United Kingdom)[1]
116 minutes
(United States)[2]
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget$50 million
Gross revenue$35,166,683

The Boat That Rocked is a 2009 British-American ensemble comedy film, released in the United Kingdom on 1 April 2009. After the film's commercial and critical failure in the UK,[3] it was re-edited[4] and retitled Pirate Radio for release in the United States and Canada on 13 November 2009 - but was still commercially unsuccessful in its new guise.[5] Set in 1966, it tells a story about a fictitious pirate radio station broadcasting from a ship to the United Kingdom. The film was written and directed by Richard Curtis and made by Working Title Films for Universal Pictures.



Carl (Tom Sturridge) arrives on the pirate radio ship, Radio Rock, after being sent to stay with the ship's Captain, his godfather, Quentin (Bill Nighy), to hopefully set his life on a different track after being expelled from school. Here he meets Radio Rock's crew of ramshackle disc jockeys, led by The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a buoyant rock-loving American, along with the suave and bawdy Dave (Nick Frost) and the naive but good hearted Simon (Chris O'Dowd). Also filling the airwaves is self proclaimed New Zealand "nut," Angus (Rhys Darby), the mysterious Midnight Mark (Tom Wisdom) and the even more mysterious, reclusive and downright disillusioned late-night DJ Smooth Bob (Ralph Brown). Serving as the ship's crew are the shy lesbian cook Felicity (Katherine Parkinson) and radio assistants, Harold (Ike Hamilton) and Carl's bunkmate, the appropriately nicknamed Thick Kevin (Tom Brooke).

Dave wastes no time in introducing Carl to women, only for both of Carl's attempts to be foiled by Dave himself, including Carl's first crush, Quentin's niece, Marianne (Talulah Riley), although she would return to the ship to make up with Carl and make love to him and him alone. Simon also is unlucky in love, meeting and marrying the too-good-to-be-true Elenore (January Jones) only to find her affections are really placed with the returning "king of the airwaves", Gavin (Rhys Ifans). The Count objects to Gavin's antics with Elenore, leading to a clash of egos that ends in a truce after both suffer physical injuries jumping from the top of the ship's radio mast in a contest of courage.

Kevin, in an unusually insightful moment, points out to Carl that Radio Rock is clearly no place to be sent to clean up his act and suggests that the real reason Carl's mother sent him there is that his father, who he has never met, is among the crew, nominating Quentin as the most likely suspect. When his mother Charlotte (Emma Thompson) visits for Christmas, Carl asks her about Quentin, only for her to deny it. As she leaves the boat, Carl passes on a cryptic message from Smooth Bob ("Muddy Waters rocks"), which leads to the unexpected revelation that Bob, not Quentin, is Carl's father, something that throws both father and son.

Radio Rock's controversial on-air antics have ruffled the feathers of a government minister, Dormandy, (Kenneth Branagh), who instructs his subordinate Twatt (Jack Davenport) to find a way to take down pirate radio, despite its popularity among the pop hungry masses. After a couple of attempts to deprive the station of advertising funding backfire, Twatt encounters a news story of a fishing boat whose call for help failed to get through because of Radio Rock's powerful signal swamping the frequency and realises that this can be used to ban pirate radio for good. He proposes the creation of the Marine Offences Act, which passes through Parliament without any shown opposition.

With the Act due to come into force, the crew of Radio Rock choose to defy the act, for various different personal reasons, and continue to broadcast. Twatt leads a group of boats out into the North Sea to board the pirate ship and arrest the crew, only to find a fishing vessel anchored there instead. Quentin has given the order to fire up the ship's aging engines and move their position. Unfortunately, the strain proved too much for the decrepit boat: the engines backfire severely and the ship begins to sink as the DJs broadcast their position. The crew assemble on the upper deck, Carl rescuing the oblivious Bob from his cabin, leading to an apparent reconciliation between the pair, while the Count vows to continue broadcasting as long as possible. Dormandy forbids Twatt from sending out rescue craft, however, many fans have also heard the broadcast and come to rescue the crew as the ship sinks below the waves, with the Count emerging from the water at the very last second.

The film concludes with captions stating that, despite the end of "the golden age of pirate radio", the dream lives on, with 299 music radio stations across the UK playing rock and pop music 24 hours a day, and that rock and roll has had a good forty years, ending with a montage of successful music albums covering the entire forty year period.



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.[6] The producers for Working Title were Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Hilary Bevan Jones, with Curtis, Debra Hayward and Liza Chasin acting as executive producers.[7] Principal photography started on 3 March and continued until June 2008.[6] Filming took place on the former Dutch hospital ship Timor Challenger, previously De Hoop, moored in Portland Harbour, Dorset; the "North Sea" scenes were shot off Portland Bill, while boat interior shots were filmed inside a warehouse in Osprey Quay on the Isle of Portland[8][9] and at Shepperton Studios.[10] Some of the authentic 1960s-vintage studio equipment seen in the film was ex-Radio Caroline, having been used on the MV Ross Revenge in the 1980s and loaned to the film's production company by the ship's current owners, along with numerous fixtures and fittings that were used for set decoration. (The ship used for exterior filming was also fitted with a dummy twin-mast aerial resembling the Ross Revenge's post-1988 antenna system, although all of the real pirate radio ships of the 1960s used single-mast antennas.)[citation needed]

On 28 April 2008, scenes were shot on Roupell Street in Waterloo, London, with the Kings Arms re-named the Red Lion for filming purposes.[citation needed]

The film's production cost exceeded £30 million.[11]

Cutting room floor

With an initial running time coming in around three hours, many scenes were removed as the editing progressed solely for time reasons. These include a sub-plot about a rival pirate broadcaster being sabotaged by the Radio Rock crew (featuring James Corden) and a flashback to Gavin's past explaining his return to the ship. Felicity also has a scene explaining her joining the crew to escape her fiancée and we learn more about Angus's reasons for believing the crew not liking him. All of these scenes have been included on most home video releases as deleted scenes introduced by Richard Curtis.[citation needed]

North American release

Following the film's financial failure at the British box-office, Focus Features commissioned a re-edited version for North American release, retitled Pirate Radio. Curtis deleted approximately twenty minutes of footage from the original UK version to address complaints from several critics that the film's running time was excessive. In the UK, The Boat That Rocked, as it was known in UK, had the misfortune to open against Monsters Vs. Aliens. In the U.S, Pirate Radio, as it was known in the U.S, had the misfortune to open against Roland Emmerich's 2012 as well as Robert Zemeckis' digimation A Christmas Carol.[11][12]


The film has received generally mixed reviews: it holds a 54% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 39 reviews.[13] The Daily Telegraph credited the film with "some magical moments," but called it "muddled" and criticised its length.[14] Time Out was also critical of the length and said the film was "disappointing".[15]

The Hollywood Reporter ran the headline "Rock 'n' roll movie Boat just barely stays afloat," declaring the film too long to sustain interest.[16] Total Film also criticised the film's length and comedic style.[17] Andrew Neil writing in The Observer, remarked that he was disappointed in the "contrived" storyline and the "unnecessarily perverted" history.[18]

Channel 4 reviewed the film more positively, calling it "touching", "heartfelt" and an "enjoyable journey", but ultimately questioned its coherence.[19]

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.[11]

The film was released in the United States with a different title and a radically-different marketing angle. However the film earned less than $3 million in its first weekend (in a large-scale release of 882 screens) and suffered a stiff 49.7% drop-off on its second weekend - earning only $1.46 million.[20]


The Boat That Rocked is a fictitious comedy set in Britain during 1966 in an era when the BBC, the only licensed radio broadcaster on the UK mainland was restricted by union agreements to playing a very limited amount of recorded music each week. In the story a pirate station called Radio Rock began broadcasting pop music twenty-four hours a day from a boat anchored off the coast of England in international waters. Hosted by a colourful band of disc-jockeys, it soon gains an audience of millions and angers the government in the process. While the story has a tangential relationship to real events it does not represent any specific pirate station that was broadcasting to Britain in 1966.

Factual background to the story

The official synopsis of the film 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.[21] However this was not the factual background, and the film itself contained no reference to the BBC's policy on jazz. Instead it compares the restricted non-recorded music output of the British Broadcasting Corporation's three radio services of 1966, with the very liberal music output of a pirate station. But it is all about contemporary pop music being heard. It should be noted that when offshore broadcasting began off England in 1964, the musical output and style of presentation of the first station (Radio Caroline), was very similar to the BBC Light Programme. That station broadcast mainly during the daytime at first and while the BBC relied heavily on its own studio recordings of orchestras and dance bands, Radio Caroline played a wide variety of recorded music interspersed with commercial advertising. The situation in Britain changed when Don Pierson of Texas created three offshore stations whose output was based upon American commercial radio. During the entire period from 1964 to 1967, British commercial radio attempted to maintain a highly respectable business image and the stations continued to play a wide variety of music (unlike the fictitious 'Radio Rock'.)

In the film a nod is given to a character - Smooth Bob (Ralph Brown) - who might be seen as the late John Peel on Wonderful Radio London. Another is to Caroline and (later) Radio One DJ Emperor Rosko in the form of Seymour Hoffman's The Count. Chris O'Dowd plays a DJ called Simon, the fictitious station's breakfast DJ. "The breakfast jock on Radio Caroline at the time was Tony Blackburn, so there's definitely an element of him in it," says O'Dowd of his character.[22] "And then I called in different Irish DJs that would have been contemporaries of Tony Blackburn at the time, a guy called Larry Gogan and a couple of other people."[22]

The film uses a ship that is similar to the last vessel used by Radio Caroline from 1983 to 1990.

As Richard Curtis explained on the Dave Cash show on BBC Radio Kent on 28 March 2009, this film is not intended to be a depiction of the real story of offshore broadcasting to the United Kingdom as it took place in 1966. Curtis told the audience that someone should make such a film but that his film is for entertainment purposes only.[23]

On the same show Cash interviewed Labour politician Tony Benn, who was the Postmaster General primarily responsible for the enactment of the Marine Offences Act that was responsible for the closure of the off-shore stations. Cash cited Professor Gilder's work (see References below) regarding Garner Ted Armstrong, and he asked Benn about the alleged links to a hidden American political agenda in financing the offshore stations. Benn denied knowledge but did not dismiss the possibility. Contrary to the free-wheeling style of the DJs on board the fictitious 'Radio Rock', Kenny Everett - one of the most zany DJs on Wonderful Radio London - had his employment terminated because he repeatedly made fun of the Armstrong broadcasts.

Radio 390 broadcast to an older audience in 1966 using a style of broadcasting that the BBC had previously used in the 1950s and then abandoned. All of the stations hoped to gain a license to come on land and therefore they all attempted to comply with all normal business regulations and society norms. In the end the BBC hired most of the out of work pirate radio DJs of the real era and Philip Birch who was Managing Director of Wonderful Radio London and its London sales office Radlon Sales, became the founding managing director of Piccadilly Radio one of Britain's most successful legal commercial stations.

European offshore commercial broadcasting had a long history before its advent off the UK. It began in the 1950s with a Danish station called Radio Mercur followed by stations off Sweden, and Belgium, and radio stations and a television station off the Netherlands. Other stations have also appeared off Israel, New Zealand and the United States of America. The inspiration for offshore broadcasting stations of the 1950s is linked to the Voice of America radio ship 'Courier' anchored off the Isle of Rhodes.

The marketing campaign for the US release that purported to be historically accurate was actually predicated on a scenario inconsistent with historical fact. The trailers and TV commercials featured a narrator stating: "...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."[24] The trailer showed a British government minister being told that the American deejay is "possibly the most famous broadcaster ever". The trailer and commercials also displayed prominent text that stated: "inspired by a true story". While some might interpret from this that the film was based on actual events and set against a genuine historical background, assertions in its trailers and TV commercials differed from known history:[25]

  • The British government did not "ban rock 'n' roll on the radio"; it introduced a law to prohibit broadcasting from offshore transmitters operating without a licence.[26][27][28]
  • Popular music in that era in Britain was primarily known as "pop music" and not as "rock 'n' roll".[29][30][31][32]
  • The character upon whom the American DJ in the film was loosely based (Emperor Rosko)[33][34][35] was a comparative unknown, who prior to being featured on a British pirate radio station in 1966, had been heard only on a US Navy station and on sponsored radio shows in France and Belgium [36][37]
  • Emperor Rosko was one of several popular deejays – not of pre-eminent popularity.[29] In the film itself, the ministerial aide is in fact referring to a different character entirely.
  • The pirate radio stations that irritated the British government were not launched in 1966 in retaliation for any "banning" of popular music on British radio. The pirate radio stations were launched from 1964 onwards as entrepreneurial endeavours to make money;[29] and the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act that was introduced in 1966 and became law in 1967 was a reaction to the pirate stations – not the other way round.[38]


  • The soundtrack features songs from The Turtles, Jimi Hendrix, Duffy, The Kinks, Box Tops, The Beach Boys, Dusty Springfield - and features almost entirely well known sixties hits, despite the fact Pirate Radio was best known for giving steady airplay to lesser known acts.
  • The soundtrack features 32 songs on two discs. The film itself has a 60-song playlist.[39]
  • A number of songs on the soundtrack, almost all of which are shown as being records played on the station itself, were actually released after the film's conclusion in January 1967, including The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "The Wind Cries Mary" (May 1967), Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (June 1967), The Who's "I Can See For Miles" (October 1967), John Fred and his Playboy Band's "Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)" (January 1968), Herb Alpert's "This Guy's in Love with You" (April 1968), Tommy James and the Shondells' "Crimson and Clover" (November 1968) and the Turtles' "Elenore" (November 1968) among several others.

Home media

FormatRelease DateAdditional Content
DVDRegion 1: 9 March 2010
Region 2: 7 September 2009
Region 4: 12 August 2009[40]
  • Deleted Scenes, Director's commentary
Blu-rayRegion 1: 9 March 2010
Region 2: 7 September 2009[41]
Region 4: 12 August 2009
  • Deleted Scenes, Director's commentary


  1. ^ "The Boat That Rocked". British Board of Film Classification. 17 March 2009. http://www.bbfc.co.uk/website/Classified.nsf/0/90615f2f0307da2a8025757c00542bd1?OpenDocument&ExpandSection=1#_Section1. Retrieved 2009-11-09. 
  2. ^ "Pirate Radio". Ontario Film Review Board. 22 October 2009. http://www.ofrb.gov.on.ca/ofrb/OfrbWelcomeAction.do. Retrieved 2009-11-09.  Search on Pirate Radio.
  3. ^ http://www.contactmusic.com/news.nsf/story/curtis-to-re-edit-the-boat-that-rocked-before-us-release_1109316
  4. ^ http://www.slashfilm.com/2009/06/26/the-boat-that-rocked-goes-to-focus-gets-shorter-cut/
  5. ^ "Pirate Radio (2009)". Box Office Mojo. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?page=weekend&id=boatthatrocked.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-04. 
  6. ^ a b Dawtrey, Adam (4 March 2008). "Curtis sets sail on Universal's 'Boat'". Variety. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117981812.html. Retrieved 9 November 2009. 
  7. ^ "Cast and crew information". Working Title Films. http://www.workingtitlefilms.com/filmCastCrew.php?filmID=120. Retrieved 27 March 2008. 
  8. ^ "£1 million film is ready to rock". Dorset Echo. 2008. http://www.dorsetecho.co.uk/display.var.2160801.0.1_million_film_is_ready_to_rock.php. Retrieved 1 April 2008. 
  9. ^ Portland
  10. ^ "Ross Revenge, Radio Caroline and "The Boat That Rocked"". 2009. http://www.rossrevenge.co.uk/boatthatrocked/boatthatrocked.htm. Retrieved 15 April 2009. 
  11. ^ a b c "Richard Curtis - Curtis to re-edit The Boat That Rocked before U.S. release". Contactmusic.com. 10 July 2009. http://www.contactmusic.com/news.nsf/story/curtis-to-re-edit-the-boat-that-rocked-before-us-release_1109316. Retrieved 9 November 2009. 
  12. ^ Schuker, Lauren A.E. (30 October 2009). "Rock Comedy, Repackaged". The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703363704574501881871851944.html. Retrieved 9 November 2009. 
  13. ^ "The Boat That Rocked". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/boat_that_rocked/. Retrieved 7 November 2009. 
  14. ^ Telegraph review
  15. ^ TimeOut Review
  16. ^ Bennett, Ray (31 March 2009). "Rock 'n' roll movie Boat just barely stays afloat". The Hollywood Reporter. http://www.reuters.com/article/entertainmentNews/idUSTRE52U0Y120090331. Retrieved 9 November 2009. 
  17. ^ Total Film review
  18. ^ Neil, Andrew (5 April 2009). "My week: Andrew Neil". The Observer. http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2009/apr/05/my-week-andrew-neil. Retrieved 9 November 2009. 
  19. ^ Luck, Richard. "The Boat That Rocked Review". Channel 4. http://www.channel4.com/film/reviews/film.jsp?id=171917&section=review. Retrieved 9 November 2009. 
  20. ^ http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?page=weekend&id=boatthatrocked.htm
  21. ^ "Official synopsis". Working Title Films. http://www.workingtitlefilms.com/filmSynopsis.php?filmID=120. Retrieved 27 March 2008. 
  22. ^ a b "Chris O'Dowd: The IT Man From The IT Crowd". SuicideGirls.com. 9 May 2009. http://suicidegirls.com/interviews/Chris+O%27Dowd%3A+The+IT+Man+From+The+IT+Crowd/. Retrieved 11 May 2009. .
  23. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p002jkhs/Dave_Cash_Saturday_28_03_2009/
  24. ^ YouTube: North American trailer
  25. ^ Guardian article.
  26. ^ note to Marine Broadcasting Offences act
  27. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=qMjT5wOX-d4C&pg=PA146&lpg=PA146&dq=marine+broadcasting+offences+act&source=bl&ots=b7Sp-N-MOe&sig=2pPOcT5Z7cOjdPb3LM9fUkaRa68&hl=en&ei=iwr5SorSDorssQPDsrTQCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CBIQ6AEwBTgK#v=onepage&q=marine%20broadcasting%20offences%20act&f=false
  28. ^ http://www.gooletimes.net/news/3924/when-pirates-ruled-the-waves
  29. ^ a b c Guardian article
  30. ^ http://www.westword.com/2000-05-25/music/power-play/
  31. ^ Rotten Tomatoes review
  32. ^ http://heronwatermusic.blogspot.com/2006/01/i-predict-riot.html
  33. ^ Telegraph article
  34. ^ Guardian review
  35. ^ Times review
  36. ^ Radio Rewind
  37. ^ Offshore Radio
  38. ^ http://web.onetel.net.uk/~uncletony/pirateship.htm
  39. ^ The Boat That Rocked at what-song
  40. ^ "dStore - The Boat That Rocked (DVD)". http://dstore.com.au/dvd/Boat-That-Rocked-The/10665701.html. Retrieved 29 July 2009. 
  41. ^ "Amazon.co.uk - The Boat That Rocked (Blu-ray)". http://www.amazon.co.uk/Boat-That-Rocked-Blu-ray/dp/B0027P94CQ/. Retrieved 29 July 2009. 

Further reading

  • Blackburn, Tony. Poptastic - My life in Radio. Cassell Illustrated, London, 2007. ISBN 9781844036004
  • Cash, Dave. All Night Long. Mandarin, 1993. ISBN 0749315636 - Novel written by a nineteen-sixties offshore radio station dj predating the film. It tells the story of pirate radio stations and how they changed the face of British radio in the 1960s. Set between April 1965 and August 1967, and tells of the fictitious FREE Radio, a pirate ship anchored between Radio London and Radio Caroline in the Thames estuary.
  • Gilder, Eric and Hagger, Mervyn. "Prophecies of Dystopic 'Old World, New World' Transitions Told: 'The World Tomorrow' Radio Broadcasts to the United Kingdom, 1965-1967," New/Old Worlds: Spaces of Transition Rodica Mihăilă and Irina Grigorescu Pană (Eds.). Bucharest: Univers Enciclopedic, 2007 (pp. 205–23).
  • Gilder, Eric and Hagger, Mervyn. "Puppets on Strings: How American Mass Media Manipulated British Commercial Radio Broadcasting," The Romanian Journal of English Studies, 2009. The factual story of how offshore commercial broadcasting was begun off England with Radio Caroline by a younger faction within the British Establishment.
  • Henry, Stuart and Joel, Mike von. Pirate Radio - then and now. Blandford Press, 1984. ISBN 0713714972
  • Jenkins, Robert. Tony Benn, a political biography. Writers and Reader Cooperative, London. 1980 ISBN 0906495350. - Benn is widely viewed as the prototype for the film's adversary character (Member of Parliament Dormandy), although such comparison does not appear to be justified. In real life Benn was born into an established religious, political and publishing family in England and married an American citizen. Although Benn did not follow up on repeated questions put to him by Dave Cash regarding the Armstrong broadcasts of 1966 attacking a United States of Europe, his biography on pages 31/32 reflects that this was a frequent topic of the Debating Society that he participated in while he was a young man at Westminster Public School. However, these broadcasts were the main source of income for the stations and one of the main reasons why Tony Benn was instrumental in administering a law that eventually terminated these programs and in so doing starved the offshore stations of revenue.
  • Peel, John. John Peel - Margrave of the marshes. Bantam Press, London, 2005. ISBN 0593052528
  • Skues, Keith. Pop went the pirates. Lambs' Meadow Publications, Sheffield, 1994. ISBN 0907398030
  • Walker, Johnnie. The Autobiography. Penguin Books, London, 2007. ISBN 978-0-141-02428-8

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