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April 17th 2009 print

Philippa Martyr

The Boat that Sucked – Big time

The only thing I can recommend in this film is the clothes. The costume department excelled itself: Chris O’Dowd’s patchwork velvet wedding jacket is to die for; ditto Rhys Ilfans’ purple velvet sharp-fitting suit. The irritating lesbian wears some lovely crocheted waistcoats.

The Boat That Rocked is touted as Richard Curtis’ hommage to (or revival of, depending on what magazines you read) the old Ealing comedy genre of Brit film-making. 

And if The Boat That Rocked is an Ealing comedy, then I am Richard Brinsley Sheridan. 

The Boat That Rocked does indeed harken back to a jollier time in Brit film-making. It is in fact a Carry-On movie; that is, when it isn’t being Porky’s. Bill Nighy’s Quentin is just a more up-market version of Sid James. (Oh Bill – and you the sexiest piece of chewed string I‘ve seen in a long time, and a good actor to boot. I wanted to bury my face in my hands. O tempora, o mores.

Richard Curtis should be utterly ashamed of himself. The joy of his earlier work like Notting Hill and all those other unrealistic and cheerfully escapist bits of fluff were that they made it all look so easy. There was an effortless foolishness about them which made them a Good Night Out, and you didn’t feel cheated when you had to take out a second mortgage to pay for the ticket and Choc-Bomb. 

But with this film one can hear his imagination creaking, as Ambrose Silk put it, like a pair of corsets on an old harridan. And isn’t it lovely to see that Curtis has at last discovered something that any five-year old knows: characters with names like Twatt represent excellent comedic value for money; ditto repeated shots of people sitting on the toilet. This too is effortless comedy, but it is the wrong sort of effortless. 

It is an uphill battle, which is a shame because the cast is excellent – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Ilfans, Nick Frost, and others of that ilk – and the ensemble pieces on the boat work very, very well indeed. You could use the same cast in a POW camp movie or a heist-hijinks flick or in fact in any other ensemble trope, and you’d have an excellent movie on your hands, but The Boat That Rocked just doesn’t cut it. 

What’s wrong? 

In brief: 

1) it’s far too long. It needs the scissors taken to it to trim all the sagging and repetitive shots of naughty schoolgirls in dormitories doing groovy dancing to the (excellent) soundtrack. If one must have dancing, then please, more Bill Nighy dancing. (Now that is worth watching; he has the skinniest legs I’ve ever seen. The man has no visible means of support.) 

You could also have trimmed the sinking boat scene, which was allowed to resolve too many obvious loose ends. Curtis could have made the whole thing a hilarious hommage to Titanic in an oh-so-po-mo ironic anachronism, but that might have represented an original direction on his part and a divergence from his tried-and-true winning formula. 

2) Too many Carry-On dollybirds. The female ‘characters’ are cardboard cutouts, even the allegedly proud lesbian who does the cooking (harsh 60s realism there – who says Richard Curtis films are contrived?) Take the women out of this film, and you’d have a really good piece of work with a first-rate male ensemble cast which would probably acquire a cult following very quickly. 

The only woman in this film who can actually act, Emma Thompson, slinks through in an uncredited cameo as the forgettable boy-hero’s mum, wearing sunglasses throughout and a huge collar on her coat, and I don’t blame her. She looks embarrassed to be seen in such a poor film and obviously can’t wait to get off the damn boat as quickly as possible, but gossip fans will be pleased to hear that she stays a long way away from ex-hubby Kenneth Branagh. (Potential plot angle: beastly Minister Mr Dormandy turns out to be forgettable boy-hero’s dad, instead of hapless hippie DJ Bob?) 

The only thing I can recommend in this film is the clothes. The costume department excelled itself: Chris O’Dowd’s patchwork velvet wedding jacket is to die for; ditto Rhys Ilfans’ purple velvet sharp-fitting suit. The irritating lesbian wears some lovely crocheted waistcoats, and there’s a lot of Biba revival which is very pretty to look at. 

Or you could just go to your local public library and borrow a copy of The Sixties in Vogue and enjoy yourself for free. In fact, do that. Or better still, pop down to the bespoke tailors and get yourself a patchwork velvet suit made – a much more sensible outlay of cash than wasting it on this piece of sagging, ill-fitting, unironed, cheap polyester celluloid.