2 Stars — Disturbing

Laws often have the opposite effect of their intent. Thinking that we can outlaw those moral choices that only individuals can make, government sometimes attempts to make those choices for us. When attempted, the laws can have the unintended effect of creating a rebellion that is contagious. History has taught us this lesson in virtually every field of human endeavor, but seldom as clearly as in Richard Curtis’ film Pirate Radio.

Lightly based on a story of Britain’s struggle with unlicensed radio during 1966, the film presents a comedy with an agenda and stereotypical characterizations. The government employees are caricatured in their attempt to silence the rock musicians of the 1960s, but so are the DJs of this pirate broadcast station.

By not allowing them to broadcast from within the borders of England, the government helps create the problem when an enterprising station owner anchors a decrepit ship offshore. In their status as illegal broadcasters, they adopt a lawless lifestyle as well. Perhaps it was both the illegality of the broadcast and their obvious immoral choices individually that caused the people to tune in, eventually claiming that half of the population of England was listening.

The ensemble cast works well. Presenting themselves as both insecure and rebellious, the male disc jockeys create a family of sorts, but of a self-described immoral type. This is witnessed when young James (Charlie Rowe) comes on board. Realizing he has no sexual experience, they set out to provide that for him. But it is not without betrayal and voyeurism, as their lawless behavior also affects their own on-board family of people.

The story is complex and carries within it several interlacing threads. It would be untrue to say that there is any central character, though some are more prominent than others. The American of the mix calls himself The Count (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). The station manager is Quentin (Bill Nighy). The old-timer who explains that his lifelong use of drugs has caused him to become a recluse is Bob (Ralph Brown). The self-proclaimed lesbian cook is Felicity (Katherine Parkinson), along with an assortment of others.

As a film, it was a commercial failure in the United Kingdom when released earlier this year. However, the re-edited film works well in the United States, in part because of the disbelief Americans have toward a government that would even try to silence rock music.

But the film works both ways on that issue. Seeing the DJs push the moral envelopes, both privately and corporately, it is realized that they were seeking not just the joy of music, but also a restructuring of morality. As history has revealed, the music was far less destructive than the lawless and immoral lifestyle they were able to infect within British culture. That is a lesson we are continuing to learn throughout the world.


» Do you believe the laws governing broadcast media are helpful or hurtful to a culture? Should we protect children and youths from information given too early? How do we keep from encouraging rebellion against the very guidance we’re trying to give?

» When the government is portrayed as one-sided as this film does, do you believe it’s harmless humor or something more damaging? Where does your view of government come from if not from media?

» The requirement that there be no straight females on-board except during the Saturday orgies turns women into sexual objects rather than life partners. The only marriage that occurs is a sham. Why do you believe that was included in this fictional tale?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.