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It's far too early to tell, but The Boat That Rocked (Pirate Radio) may be the first movie to comprehend the British re-invention of rock 'n' roll — and to suggest how it differed from the American original. The film's American title tells a big part of the story: in Britain, rock 'n' roll glistened with an illicit allure that it never bore in the States. On a quieter scale, rock was taken up by whatever Sloane Rangers were called in those days. In America, rock was not cool — jazz was. And jazz was for men, college men. A third factor, one that has always interested me, was the collective experience of a lot of first-class church music that's so easy to hear in the background of British rock.
As for the movie itself, it's as exciting to watch as the Beatles were to listen to almost fifty years ago. It is also the best movie about working at a radio station that we've ever seen. It follows from that (I'm afraid) that there aren't many roles for women, and two of the major ones are walk-ons. But what walk-ons! January Jones looking almost Botticellian as her character marries for love! And then, next thing you know, Emma Thompson's peek-a-boo entry completely outdoes Mad Men by reviving the ultra-trans-Jackie glamour of the era's chic British dames.
Hooray for Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans, and, above all Bill Nighy: three faces of zero-degree coolness. Kudos to Tom Sturridge for acting up to them as the initially virginal waif who gets the gorgeous girl in the end — while all of England listens! (The shots of English people listening to Pirate Radio are in fact what carry this film from mere excellence to blissifying excellence.) There is the sinking ship! We're not supposed to mention the sinking ship, but director Richard Curtis can't resist transcending the tics of disaster film.
We'll have more to say when we catch our breath. For the moment, it will suffice to say that The Boat That Rocked is an elation that lasts for two hours and nine minutes. Think you can handle it?
Copyright (c) 2009 Pourover Press