The Boat That Rocked

A film of two halves: one spent waiting to laugh, the other not laughing.

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Home Reviews Cinema The Boat That Rocked
The Boat That Rocked Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 02 April 2009 11:00
Director: Richard Curtis
Cast: Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Darby, Rhys Ifans, Kenneth Branagh, Jack Davenport, Chris O’Dowd, Tom Sturridge
Certificate: 15

My name’s Richard Curtis and I’m a pop addict – or, at least, that’s what we’re led to believe from his latest effort, The Boat That Rocked. He’s clearly made a huge effort in recreating his favourite era of illicit vinyl and pirate radio. But it’s not nearly as much as it takes to watch it.

Cranking out its two-hour tune with a cast of colourful characters, it's a film of two distinct halves: waiting to laugh for one hour, and not laughing for the next. Comedies are meant to be funny. Someone should probably tell Richard that. He seems to have forgotten.

Ok, there are some giggles dotted across the deck – step forward Rhys Darby’s uncool Angus and Chris O’Dowd’s simple Simon. But as for The Count (Hoffman), Curtis’ Empereor Rosko, Big Dave (Frost) and shock-jock Gavin (a strangely muted Rhy Ifans), there’s barely a titter between them. Held together by cravat-wearing Quentin (Nighy), captain of Radio Rock, this motley crew of scallywags rejoice in their offshore hijinx. We don't. Joining them is Quentin’s Godson, Carl (Sturridge), a boy yet to come of age who doesn’t know who his father is - when we all find out, it’s just a disappointment.

Back on Blighty’s mainland, the thin-lipped Minister Dormandy (Branagh) is trying to shut down pirate radio for good. Boo, hiss. Looking for loopholes to make music illegal, he’s helped along by his assistant, Twatt (Davenport). Yes, Twatt; a joke lovingly ripped off Curtis’ earlier work, and a name that doesn’t raise a laugh. Once. As the ship turns into the Titanic – a nice chance for some closing pathos – the ship begins to drag. This is less Blackadder Goes Forth and more Richard Runs Aground.

Perhaps it’s the joint role of writer-director – an issue that plagued Love Actually. Knowing when to stop yourself, that’s the key. Here, Richard keeps on going, weaving his strands of plot together to form the world’s most unwanted woolly jumper. The kind that doesn’t fit round the middle. Or anywhere else. Curtis loves his material, but he’s so in awe of history that the ensemble piece becomes a mess. Running around like naughty cabin boys, a string of sketches makes for no narrative and fewer gags. Plumbing the depths of his back catalogue, he even crams a wedding in there. The rest is a funeral. Bonus points for production values but if you can’t get a guffaw from this talented cast, there’s something amiss.


A well-meaning love letter to music, does Richard succeed in rocking the boat? Punctured, scuttled and finally sunk, someone should’ve told him not to stand up in the first place.

Comments (1)
1 Monday, 13 April 2009 11:30
I found this moderately enjoyable but at best I could only half laugh. The government becomes a sort of pantomime villain although Kenneth Branagh does his very best. Bill Nighy is the best thing in this film, but mostly because he's just being Bill Nighy which doesn't say much for the character as written. Richard Curtis needs to buck up his act or his films are just going to fade into irrelevance.

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