Pirate Radio



Good-natured rock 'n' roll comedy with some iffy behavior.
Parents recommend
  • Review Date: November 8, 2009
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 115 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The film's story is clearly a case of David vs. Goliath and creativity vs. the establishment, but there are a lot of gray areas. The heroes are technically obeying the law, and the government is acting out of personal bias rather than regard for the common good, but it's still a case of the law being deliberately ignored or bypassed. The main characters also raise a lot of eyebrows throughout most of the film, indulging in booze, casual sex, foul language, and socially unacceptable behavior. Most of them find a kind of redemption toward the end, but it's iffy whether any of them really learn anything important.

Positive role models

For the first two-thirds of the film, there are no positive role models to speak of. Government officials act selfishly and snobbishly, and the rebellious heroes indulge in all kinds of debauchery in addition to their heroic deeds. But toward the end, the DJs' persistence becomes more about pleasing others and seems more heroic.


Characters threaten one another, and there's playful banter, but hardly any physical violence and no blood or gore. Police are armed.


No actual sex is shown, but sex talk and sexual innuendo are virtually constant, and there's an underlying theme of a teenager losing his virginity. Implication of sex between two women. In one scene, a man sends a younger man into a dark bedroom, hoping to fool his intended female sexual partner. Both men appear naked in the scene, but no genitalia are shown. The young teenage character obtains a condom for sex he hopes he's going to have. At least two girls have sex with more than one of the men. A boatload of women arrives at one point, with the goal of sex for (nearly) everyone on board. Some of the DJs use sexual innuendo on the air. Discussion of body parts and their respective sizes; passionate kissing.


Near-constant swearing, with frequent use of "f--k" and most other known curse words, including lots of body-part slang ("boobies," "knob," etc.) and many British slang words that some Americans may not know. "Oh my God" and "goddamn" used as exclamations. One character's last name is "Twatt," and he's called that often.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Plenty of drinking to the point of overindulgence, mainly by adults. No drugs are shown (though the're sometimes discussed) -- but for some characters, their after-effects are subtly suggested. Some era-accurate smoking (both cigarettes and pipes).

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that, though Pirate Radio is about rebellion of every stripe, it's ultimately a good-natured film filled with good-hearted characters who will appeal to mature teens (as well as parents who cherish rock 'n' roll). The movie's events are seen through the eyes of a teenager who spends a lot of time with several free-spirited 1960s DJs ... and pursues losing his virginity in the process. It's all part of them urging him to "loosen up" and "have fun" -- which translates to plenty of rude, dangerous, and anti-authoritarian behavior, sex and sex talk, drinking, and other illicit activities, so be ready to talk to your teens about the real-life consequences of what they're seeing on screen. It's important to note that the only real female character in the movie is a lesbian (a fact that's repeated again and again, mostly with comedic intent).

What's the story?

It's 1966, and rock 'n' roll is banned in England -- but it's still legal to broadcast from offshore. Young Carl (Tom Sturridge) arrives on board the Radio Rock, an old fishing boat that's been converted to a floating radio station. There he witnesses a series of vignettes about an ensemble of misfit characters, including his godfather/the boat's captain, Quentin (Bill Nighy), and a ragtag crew of DJs that includes the boisterous Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), tubby Dave (Nick Frost), and seductive Gavin (Rhys Ifans). The Count and Gavin strike up a rivalry, romances come and go, and there's lots of general bickering and ribbing. Meanwhile, on dry land, menacing government minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) will stop at nothing to shut them down.

Is it any good?


Written and directed by Richard Curtis (Love Actually), Pirate Radio was trimmed by 20 minutes after its release in England, where critics complained of excessive length (and where the film was titled The Boat That Rocked); now the movie feels jaunty and lightweight -- though perhaps a bit too weightless. Too many characters with too little screen time add up to not much depth for anyone; the character arcs are fairly simple and predictable overall, with little emotional weight (centerpiece character Carl is the weakest of all). It sometimes feels more like an extended BBC comedy sketch than a film.

But the film's good-natured rebellion and genuine enthusiasm for the power of rock 'n' roll can be infectious and enjoyable. Moreover, talented actors and comedians like Hoffman, Nighy, Frost, and Branagh manage to find brilliantly humorous moments within their dialogue, generating plenty of laughs.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why the English government wanted to ban rock 'n' roll in the 1960s. Were they acting in the public good by doing this?

  • The DJs are combating authority, but what justifies their iffy behavior in doing so? (This story is a story told with hindsight, so it's easy to see who was right and who was wrong in the end, but it may be tricky to apply this lesson to other scenarios.)

  • Could the female characters in the film have been stronger?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 13, 2009
DVD release date:April 13, 2010
Cast:Nick Frost, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans
Director:Richard Curtis
Studio:Focus Features
Run time:115 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:language, and some sexual content including brief nudity

This review of Pirate Radio was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

For kids who love music

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Parent of a 17 year old Written byopla August 15, 2010

good movie for teenegers

i love it its not bad
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much consumerism
Great role models
Teen, 15 years old Written byspickolick August 1, 2010

Perfect all around

This was a surprisingly intelligent movie. Highly reccomended!!
What other families should know
Too much sex
Teen, 16 years old Written byellie.elephante July 19, 2010

A wonderful film, probably for older kids though

Just wonderful, has positive messages too about sticking to what you believe in. Would highly recommend.
What other families should know
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great messages


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Star Wars Guide