The Boat That Rocked
Now, although it has always been fashionable to take a bit of a pop at Richard Curtis and his ‘feel good’ movies (Four Weddings, Notting Hill, Love Actually) and I’ve been as guilty as anyone — I am just naturally bitchy, I’m afraid — I do think it is perhaps time to move on and take it up a gear: this man has to be stopped.
Pallid I can take, and unchallenging I can take, happily — in fact, there is no one who likes less of a challenge at the cinema than me — but I could not take The Boat That Rocked, an embarrassing shambles and boring in a way I’ve rarely been bored before. I felt it in the very marrow of my bones. I felt it in the way I looked at my watch every five minutes (had it actually stopped?). Oh, it’s all right for you, but this is 130 minutes I’m never going to get back, and think of all the bitching I could have got done. As it is, I wanted to bitch about your hair style and how it’s never suited you, but when am I going to get the time for that now?
This is set in 1966 on board a pirate radio ship anchored in the North Sea and broadcasting to the UK at a time when the BBC was playing less than 45 minutes of pop and rock music a day. It is apparently Curtis’s love letter to Radio Caroline, which, as a young boy, he adored and it’s meant, I think, to be an ensemble comedy, like Robert Altman’s Mash, but as it never gels coherently and also features many gratuitous glimpses of people on the toilet, I’m thinking: no. It has a stellar cast — Philip Seymour Hoffman is in it, for heaven’s sake! — but, even so, never amounts to more than a succession of protracted skits and unfunny jokes, all of which are telegraphed a mile off and sometimes 12 miles off. You could be in space and still see those jokes coming.
Its plot, such as it is, and it isn’t really, kicks off with Carl (Tom Sturridge), a 17-year-old who has been expelled from school and has been dispatched by his mother (Emma Thompson in one of the most bizarre cameo roles ever) to spend time with his godfather, Quentin (Bill Nighy), who runs the station. We are meant to believe that Carl is a loser who cannot get a girl, which is a bit rich, considering Sturridge is a dish. (‘That’s a bit rich, Rich,’ I would even say to Mr Curtis, if I ever encountered him and couldn’t see anywhere to hide.) There isn’t, actually, a single character whom you might believe in here, let alone emotionally invest in. Bill Nighy doesn’t play Quentin; he plays Bill Nighy in a Richard Curtis film, just as Hugh Grant always played Hugh Grant in a Richard Curtis film. It is massively tiring.
So, anyway, you have Quentin and all these DJs — as played by Hoffman, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Chris O’Dowd and so on — and I’d like to tell you all about them, but you know what? Life’s too short and they are too dumb. Their biggest excitement is whenever a flotilla of Biba-clad dolly birds turns up, at which point there is a lot of squealing and giggling on both sides. This film does not do womankind any favours either. Oh, yes, there is also the British government which wants to shut the station down, and in particular there is Kenneth Branagh mercilessly hamming it up as a pantomime-style minister with a sidekick called Twatt — ‘I like you, Twatt!’ — and a secretary called Miss Clitt. This man has to be stopped. Seriously, what a nitt.
It is all woefully ludicrous, including what appears to be the nation’s intoxication with pirate radio at the time. In fact, every time the action switches to the mainland we see the entire country tuned in and enthralled, including grannies dancing down the street. I am trying to remember my grandmother in 1966 and I cannot ever recall her listening to pirate radio and dancing down the street, although she did once take me out for a birthday lunch and give me a Timex watch, although I don’t think that is quite the same thing.
The Boat That Rocked is pointless, shapeless, historically bogus and so emotionally disengaging you can’t even feel the soundtrack, which is tragic, as it’s an otherwise great, Sixties soundtrack. It is certainly my ‘feel-bored’ movie of the year so far and, if that sounds bitchy, what can I say? It’s just the way I am. (As for your hair, I’d let it grow out, if I were you.)