It was 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, a whole new heavy-metal sound was developing in the USA,
and the Motown sound was still at its peak. In addition,
the rockabilly and doo-wop songs of pre-Beatles rock 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 music and progressive jazz most of the time.
To meet the public demand for the most popular 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 fictional 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, but I didn't mind at all. 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