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Film / The Boat That Rocked

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The Boat That Rocked (Pirate Radio in the USA) is a 2009 comedy movie by Richard Curtis (the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Blackadder and writer/director of Love Actually).

It concerns the adventures of Carl (Tom Sturridge), an English 18-year-old, in 1966. Carl's just been kicked out of school, and he is sent by his mother to live with his godfather Quentin (Bill Nighy), whose ship, the Radio Rock, functions as a pirate radio station. Hijinks ensue, as Carl befriends the various DJs onboard, such as The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his rival Gavin Kavanagh (Rhys Ifans). In doing so, he experiences Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, mentored by "Doctor" Dave (Nick Frost).

However, the eeeeeeeevil Minister Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) and his assistant, the appropriately named Twatt (Jack Davenport), want to shut down the Radio Rock as well as all the other pirate radio stations that bring such "depravation" upon the UK's youth in his eyes.

This film provides examples of:

  • Almighty Janitor: A deleted scene has Harold the technician effectively filling for the DJ's when they make it back late from a shore visit.
  • Always Someone Better: Gavin, who upstages the count as the main DJ and has a bit of a rivalry with him.
  • America Saves Pop Music: One of the trailers for the American release states that The Count (the only American DJ) founded Radio Rock and saved rock and roll from the eeevil British. That's not how it goes down in the film, obviously.
  • Ambiguously Gay:
    • Yeah, he's married, but some of the things Dormandy says makes you think.
      Dormandy: We have their testicles in our hands... and it feels good.
    • Angus, although the admission of having slept with another man in when playing "I have never.." makes things somewhat less ambiguous.
  • Anachronism Stew: The movie is set in 1966-1967, but the crew play some songs that were released in later years (such as "Elenore" by The Turtles, which is from 1968.) "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was released in May 1967; it is unclear in the movie whether the scene in which it is played takes place more than three months before the Marine Offences Act came into force in August 1967.
  • Aroused by Their Voice: A scene shows hordes of female listeners swooning over Gavin's show. Even Miss C is listening to him!
  • Bad Boss: Dormandy, who threatens to not only sack Twatt and Miss C if they can't achieve what he wants within a fortnight, but to make sure that they never work again.
  • Bed Trick: Subverted when she turns the light on before anything happens and is... not best pleased.
  • Break the Cutie: Elenore's horrible treatment of Simon, especially considering how ecstatic he had been about the marriage.
  • Brick Joke: The chicken game, which gets referenced again later when the Count calls Gavin a chicken as he's the first to leave the flooding radio booth.
  • Buccaneer Broadcaster: Radio Rock.
  • Can't Act Perverted Toward a Love Interest: Marianne drives Carl crazy trying to defend the fact that he procured a condom before their date, before revealing she was just winding him up.
  • The Casanova: Midnight Mark, and to a lesser extent Dave.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Thick Kevin.
  • The Comically Serious: Quentin (in a Stiff Upper Lip manner) and News, during some of the scenes where he tries to imitate the others zany behavior (particularly in deleted scenes).
  • Cool Old Guy: Quentin.
  • Cool Shades: Gavin and Quentin wear sunglasses which add to their suave personalities.
  • Creative Closing Credits: A great example, showing hundreds of classic rock and pop album covers.
  • Dance Party Ending: The pre-credits sequence has the cast rocking out on the boat to "You Really Got Me" by The Kinks, and it's near impossible not to dance along in your seat with them.
    • In the non-US release they rock out to "Let's Dance" by David Bowie instead, which literally invites the audience to dance along.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Surprisingly, Dormandy, considering the stick up his butt. Consider the scene where he tells one of his staff that the only people who wouldn't be offended by his haircut are the blind, and that he thinks they might somehow sense its horribleness anyway.
  • Death by Materialism: Subverted, but both Quentin and Bob and endangered while riding to save personal possessions (a painting and some records respectively) as the boat is sinking, and fail to save them anyway.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Eleanor's rather poorly-executed plan to maintain an affair with Gavin. Marrying aboard was simple enough, as she had easily found the best candidate possible in Simon; however, one wonders what possessed her to drop the bombshell on him a mere hours after they'd tied the knot, let alone think for a second that he wouldn't be hurt by any of this.
  • Disappeared Dad: Bob.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Thick Kevin conspires about Carl's mother's true reason to send him onto the boat. Considering he was sent there to "clean up his act", Radio Rock was probably a very poor choice. Thick Kevin does in fact come up with the real reason which is for Carl to meet his father. He then suggests that perhaps he should be called "Clever Kevin", and promptly rolls straight out of his top-bunk bed.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Though Twatt wants to bring down Radio Rock as much as Dormandy does, he isn't willing to let the ship sink with the radio crew still on it. Dormandy, however, tells him they can't waste the resources on saving them.
  • Fat Bastard: Dr. Dave is treated as fairly likable, but is arguably the most hedonistic and insensitive of the DJ's as well as the chubbiest, urging Carl to have sex in the dark with a girl who thinks Carl is Dave, sleeping with Carl's date and taking a very long time to apologize, cheating on his wife in a backstory, callously throwing away the one record that Bob had managed to save from his precious collection due to not liking the band, and in a deleted scene betting Carl ten pounds Carl won't let him break four eggs over his head but welching on the bet by only breaking three of them and then stopping, pointing out the bet never said he had to smash four eggs on Carl, just that Carl would get four eggs smashed on his head.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Carl should probably have gathered from the Bed Trick episode that Dave's a man of questionable sexual ethics...
    • Twatt's observation that the boat isn't in a fit state to sail anywhere if they're pursued.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The Count and Gavin, as a result of Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Angus is treated as a bit of a Butt-Monkey by the others and hardly anyone raises there hand when they ask who likes him. Also Bob, who lived on the boat for seven months before the other DJ's even acknowledged his presence (although that's more due to his reclusive nature).
  • Gene Hunting
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: The cold and short-haired Minister Dormandy is just a bowler hat and a few inches mustache short of a Dastardly Dapper Derby (if not Adolf Hitler) and wants to shut down pirate radios. Contrast some of DJs, such as the Count and "Midnight" Mark, who respectively are bearded and long-haired, live only for Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll and have female listeners swooning over them.
  • Good News, Bad News: In this case turns out to be Bad News, Worse News; see Stiff Upper Lip below.
  • Hidden Disdain Reveal: Played for Laughs. The Count challenges Gavin to a game of chicken by jumping off the main mast of the boat, after it is learned Simon's new bride only married him as means to get close to Gavin, whom she is really in love with. While inching out over the mast, The Count shouts down below, "I don't even like Simon!"
  • Honor Before Reason: The Count bravely volunteers to keep broadcasting right to the bitter end. While the boat is almost submerged.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: "His name was Jackman." "Of course it was."
    • Although Angus is Kiwi rather than Australian, could this be a Shout-Out to a certain modern day Hollywood star?
  • Improbable Age: Several movie reviewers criticised the DJs as being, on average, rather too old when compared with the real-life '60s equivalent. The Radio Caroline presenters were in their mid-to late twenties, while the youngest Radio Rock DJ is Simon played by the nearly thirty year old Chris O'Dowd. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Count) and Rhys Ifans (Gavin) are in their early forties. Ralph Brown (Bob) is past fifty.
  • Jerkass: Dormandy. So much.
    • Twatt too, to a lesser extent.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Dave, the Count, Gavin.
  • Karma Houdini: Dormandy never gets any real sort of comeuppance for shutting down the station and agreeing to leave the crew and D Js to die, although he would probably face a huge scandal and be demoted to the backbenches if Twatt and/or the Radio Rock crew get the word out that he deliberately refused to send rescue boats to the sinking station. Also there's the fact that the prevalence of the rock and pop music over the next at least forty years that he tried so hard to supress would be comeuppance enough in a meta sense.
  • Kavorka Man: Dave gets any woman he wants despite being short, fat and bespectacled though this is likely due to his fame and charisma.
  • Kick the Dog: A mild example - Dormandy breaks out the champagne as he listens at home with his family (and also Twatt) to the Count announcing that Radio Rock is shutting down in compliance with the new law. When the Count yells "Only kidding!" after a moment of silence, Dormandy curses and quickly takes his wife and daughter's glasses of champagne off them.
    • A more harsh one occurs when Dormandy finds he's been thwarted by Pirate Radio again and starts yelling at Twatt and his secretary, specifically calling her "ugly" just out of sheer dickishness.
  • Kissing Cousins: Teased, when Kevin suggests that Quentin (whose niece Carl later sleeps with) might be Carl's real father. He isn't.
  • Lack of Empathy: Eleanor genuinely doesn't care how Simon might feel about her using him as a ticket onboard to get to Gavin. She's actually puzzled when Simon asks her how could she be so cruel.
  • Large Ham: Dormandy and The Count.
  • Men Don't Cry: Averted with Simon as he had clearly been crying very heavily. Also with Harold who sheds a few of his own tears, seeing Simon in so much pain.
  • A Mistake Is Born: This is how Carl explains to his bunkmate how he came to be: "My mom had sex with my dad, and then he left."
  • Mood Whiplash: Later in the film, when the government tries to shut down the station, there's a sequence in which all the broadcasters, one by one, decide to stay, standing up in turn and giving their reason for doing so while inspiring and heroic music plays....and then it gets to Bob, who stands up and says sadly, "I've got...nowhere else to go."
    • The finale, in which everyone is saved as the boat is sinking and Manly Tears are shed, does get a bit soured by some thoughtless bastard holding a sign that says "Anyone But Angus".
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: When Quentin is addressing the crew: "Thank you, gentlemen, (nods to Felicity) lady......(nods to Bob) strange bearded thing."
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Bob, although justified since the movie does take place in 1966-7.
  • Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!: The Count and Gavin have a Game of Chicken by climbing up the mast of the ship. They get to the top, and then go out along the spars, and then jump off. In an aversion to Soft Water, it doesn't go well for them
  • Nothing but Hits: Invoked, in that the pirates were basically intended to be the equivalent of Top 40 stations.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Dormandy enjoys being in the government because if he doesn't like something, he can work to make it illegal.
  • Oh, Crap!: Just about every character utters one during Gavin and the Count's game of chicken. The best one, however, comes later in the film as the boat is sinking.
    Quentin: Ah. We would appear to be in entirely the wrong place at entirely the wrong time.
    Cue water flooding the corridor
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: "The Count".
  • The Pornomancer: Mark (witness the scene of him basically bathing in adoring naked groupies). In an unprecedented bout of wordiness, he explains at the end that he uses The Quiet One persona to ramp up the Unresolved Sexual Tension to the point that he can get results with the line "So, how about it then?"
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • An in-story example; an attempt is made to invoke the trope, but it is averted at the last minute. The aversion is a case of Unspoken Plan Guarantee.
    • Dormandy's reaction to the station's refusal to shut down is a for-him-extreme "ARSE!"
    • Twatt telling the fisherman to "Shut the FUCK! UP!"
    • Simon's line of "I believe the technical term is a FUCKLOAD of boats!"
      • Even more so when you consider the deleted scene in which Simon backs up The Count's expletive-heavy speech with the hesitant use of "flippin'" and "flip", but his avoidance of swearing is still implied in other scenes.
  • Pun-Based Title: The Boat That Rocked, get it?
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Twatt (see also Even Evil Has Standards).
  • The Quiet One: Mark, even when he's broadcasting — the only clip we see of him working is his segue from one track to the next: "...Wow. Now..."
  • Signature Headgear: Gavin's feathered one, and the Count's cowboy hat.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: The men working to outlaw pirate radio are, naturally, black-suited conservatives entirely averse to fun of any sort, constantly filmed in washed-out greys.
  • The Smurfette Principle: The boat has a strict no women policy, but makes an exception for Felicity because she's a lesbian.
  • Soft Water: Averted. Gavin and the Count end up with broken bones and multiple contusions as a result of their game of Chicken.
  • Stepford Smiler: Poor Simon ends up bawling his eyes out when he plays "Stay with me baby" after Eleanor leaves the boat, only to resume his goofy voice once the song ends.
  • Stiff Upper Lip : Doubles as Moment of Awesome. (This entire conversation is deadpan and completely nonchalant.)
    Quentin: "Gentlemen, I have some good news and some...bad news. Which would you prefer?"
    All: "Good news."
    Quentin: "Okay, the good news is the engine has exploded and we're all going to die."
    Dave: "Hello, hey, er Doctor Dave here, Radio Rock, how ... how's that good news?
    Quentin: "I haven't yet told you how we're going to die, that's the bad news."
    Carl: "How are we going to die?"
    Quentin: "We're going to drown in the freezing waters of the North Sea. There is a huge hole in the side of the boat and in an unfortunate development it transpires that the lifeboats are useless."
    Thick Kevin (to Angus): "So that's quite lucky for you because you can't swim. So you'll die first."
  • Teeny Weenie: Thick Kevin apparently has one, though he doesn't seem to mind it because he can wear smaller underpants.
  • Token Minority: Harold, the sole non-white character in Radio Rock's staff of 13 (not counting the Swedish crewmen). Although given the period this is set in, it's probably Truth in Television. Also Felicity the lesbian.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Bob almost drowns because he refuses to let go of his box of records when he's fallen into a submerged part of the ship and the box is weighing him down.
  • The Unfair Sex: Subverted in fact if anything women get blamed more. After Marianne ditches Carl at the last minute to have sex with Dave, she is forced to apologize and in general is made to look pretty "loose" - whereas Dave doesn't even apologize, never gets called out for it, and seems to think he has done nothing wrong despite having acted like Carl's friend only to turn around and seduce his date. Also, Elenore reveals to Simon the day after they're married that she married Simon only to be on the boat with Gavin, with whom she's actually in love. This breaks Simon's heart and even Gavin is disgusted and sends Elenore packing... but only after having sex with her. Elenore obviously thinks that this trope is how the world works, but no one else agrees. To be fair, Elenore admits that Gavin told her the idea was crazy so he didn't seem to expect her to actually go through with it.
  • Unfortunate Names: Twatt understandably dislikes his name. There was a Ms. Clit, but that didn't get past the radar.note 
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Yes, pirate radio stations, such as Wonderful Radio London and Radio Caroline, really did (and in the case of a few still do) exist. But the British government never actually banned rock music; The BBC, which had a monopoly over the country's airwaves at the time, simply didn't play much of it and when they did, they threw it in at a dead hour (and they certainly didn't ignore Beatlemania). By 1967, the Beeb had set up Radio 1, which did the same thing that the pirates did, except legally and better (and the station had attracted some of the most popular pirate radio DJs, like John Peel). A few weeks before the launch of Radio One, Parliament passed the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act (in mid-August of 1967, not January 1 as in the film), which ended the "golden age" of pirate radio. There were revivals in The '70s and The '80s, but they were at a much smaller and less influential scale. Radio Caroline still broadcasts today, although it's now a legal, land-based station. Sometimes they climb back into one of the old boats note  for special events. Also, no pirate radio ship ever sank while sailing to a new location, although both relocations and sinkings did sometimes occur.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: A rather hilarious subversion in the opening scene. When Carl shows up, Quentin (his godfather and possible father figure for him) asks why he was kicked out of school. When "Both" is Carl's answer to the question drugs or tobacco, Quentin claps him on the shoulder and says "Well done."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After the ship springs a leak, the last we see of the Swedish crewmen is some shots of them below deck trying to stop the water rapidly flooding in. Quentin then announces that all the lifeboats are useless, so they can't have abandoned ship.
    • Actually, while they aren't really in focus, they seem to be hanging onto the railing, a little further down the deck, and out of focus, as well as cheering when the rescue ships arrive.

Alternative Title(s): Pirate Radio