Sign up for Sight & Sound’s Weekly Film Bulletin and more
News, reviews and archive features every Friday, and information about our latest magazine once a month.
► Pirates is in UK cinemas from November 26.
A consistent presence for 20 years on British TV and radio, as actor, presenter and documentarian, with presenting assignments ranging from Top of the Pops to Reggie Yates’ Extreme Russia (2015), Reggie Yates has also been developing an off-screen career as a writer-director. His short Date Night, featuring Daniel Kaluuya, was awarded the Best UK Short Film prize at the 2014 London Independent Film Festival, while his TV film Make Me Famous premiered on BBC3 last summer.
Its filming interrupted by Covid, Pirates is Yates’s first feature for the cinema. A boys-night-out comedy set on the eve of the Millennium, it proves more pleasurable than its premise might suggest. Its energy feels forced at first, as the film zips around in a sub-Guy Ritchie spirit to briskly introduce its three protagonists. But as it finds its own rhythm, Pirates reveals itself to be a still-broad but likeable affair that, while revelling in 90s nostalgia, rejects the kind of gross-out content that characterised late-90s US comedies to create something altogether more sweet-natured.
The film gains much of its appeal from the humour and affection with which its central trio is characterised and played. Exuberant impromptu in-car singalongs and moments of squabbling and support define the interactions of Cappo (Elliot Edusah), Two Tonne (Jordan Peters) and Kid (Reda Elazouar), 18-year-old friends who’ve achieved success via pirate radio and hope to take their career to the next level. But, having been away at university, Cappo has started to develop other interests, and intends to tell the others that he no longer wants to be their manager.
Yates’s script, sometimes operating at a basic sitcom level, cooks up a quest narrative of sorts: crammed into Cappo’s tiny yellow Peugeot, the trio make it their mission to secure last-minute tickets for the Twice as Nice club night at the Colosseum. It’s more about the ride than the destination, though, as the film savours slang and local references and invites us simply to hang out with its characters.
Emphasising personal over social tensions, Yates presents a diverse London with great affection. While never aspiring to the grit or soulfulness of Rocks (2019), say, the film succeeds in momentarily peering beneath the banter to touch lightly upon more complicated feelings as the dynamics and desires of these friends undergo some shifts. Supporting characters are mostly functional – though Shiloh Coke, as a challenging restaurant proprietress, and the wonderful Youssef Kerkour as Kid’s unhinged uncle, both make their mark – and the conclusion feels rushed. Still, fresh and funny at its best, Pirates bodes well for Yates’s future career behind the camera.