Sure, it’s only rock ’n’ roll, but Richard Curtis likes it — so much so that he wrote and directed “Pirate Radio,” a joyous ode to the spirit of rock, which was put to the severest of tests in the 1960s by censorious British government bureaucrats.
Best known as the writer of hit comedies like 1994’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill” (1999) and “Love Actually” (2003), Curtis, 53, says “Radio” reflects a passion for music that’s evident in each of his movies.
“I’ve always told my girlfriend, the mother of my four children, that she’s second and that I love pop music most,” he says in his British accent.
“I’ve been thinking about this for eight years, and music has been leaking into my movies more and more. But I didn’t want to write about some young man who hits the big time, falls on hard times and then stages a reunion concert.”
Curtis ended up writing about the popular pirate radio stations of the ’60s that embraced Fab 40 pop and were based offshore to avoid government reprisal for competing with the staid BBC.
They were ultimately outlawed, but The Who’s Pete Townshend paid tribute to their influence by including their trademark jingles on the band’s 1967 album, “The Who Sell Out.”
The band’s “I Can See for Miles” appears on the “Pirate Radio” soundtrack, along with classics by the Beach Boys, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and Smokey Robinson. Curtis lists none of these among his favorite artists, though he’s obviously proud of the soundtrack, which is as star-studded as his Philip Seymour Hoffman-led cast.
“I’m rather keen on the Turtles and the Troggs, I’ve always loved the Kinks, and I’m a huge fan of The Beatles,” says Curtis, who admits to listening to the Rolling Stones “intermittently,” but was scared of them as a teenager unhappily attending England’s Papplewick boarding school.
Curtis stops shy of calling “Radio” semi-autobiographical, but he recalls a time when his only friends in life were pirate-rock DJs like the one in his movie. It was important to him that the film’s music be introduced by actors capable of the same manic energy.
The obvious solution? Get Hoffman.
“I’d never worked with Phil before,” Curtis says. “But I think his character is the soul of the movie, so I didn’t want to get a merely good actor. The fact that I got the actor with the most soul in the world was a lucky break.”
IF YOU GO
- Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Sturridge
- Written and directed by Richard Curtis
- Rated R
- Running time 2 hours 15 minutes