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Pirates review – zippy and funny ’90s nostalgia trip

Reggie Yates' directorial debut, set over the course of a single New Year's Eve in London, is both deeply personal and light as a feather

Actor-turned-filmmaker Reggie Yates’ directorial debut Pirates might be set in the cold and dark of winter, but that doesn’t stop it from radiating a comforting, familiar warmth. This short and sharp comedy, set over the course of roughly nine hours, doubles as an ode to late ‘90s North London, a coming-of-age tale set amongst Yates' old stomping grounds that you feel must be partly ripped from his own life. The result, as three best friends try to ring in the new millennium in unforgettable style, is something sweet, lived-in, and often very funny.

Wannabe pirate radio DJs Cappo (Elliot Edusah), Two Tonne (Jordan Peters), and Kidda (Reda Elazouar) are all eighteen and ready to finally hit the clubs of London as the year 2000 approaches. Long-time mates, they’re thrilled to be together on New Year’s Eve, but there’s also something unspoken in the air – they each recognise, on some level, that this is the end of an era, especially for Cappo, who is back on Christmas break from Hull University.

Before the heavier stuff kicks in, though, Yates and his young cast get a lot of laughs as the trio shoot the shit together in Cappo’s yellow junker of a car, affectionately nicknamed “the Custard Cream.” Peppering in plenty of inside jokes, the dialogue really does feel like it’s coming from a years-long friendship, but never at the expense of the audience. That said, you will certainly get more enjoyment out of Pirates if you live or have lived in London yourself, as Yates draws a lot of comedic mileage out of the often insurmountable divide between the north and south sides of the river.

This film thrives most in its funny and warm first half, complete with a banging throwback of a soundtrack. It's only when the drama starts overtaking the comedy that Pirates comes onto shakier ground. The conflict between Cappo and Two Tonne, in particular, fuelled by Two Tonne’s resentment of Cappo’s perceived escape from the rest of the group, is generic where the laughs had previously felt joyously specific, while a romantic subplot is thin and forgettable. That is partly to be expected in a film as fleeting as this – Pirates runs at a mere 80 minutes – but whenever Yates takes a more serious turn you find yourself wishing you were back to the earlier silliness.

Despite these issues, Pirates remains an enjoyable calling card for both Yates and its three young leads – credit must be given to the casting team for finding three young Londoners with such great chemistry. The film might have been better served leaning fully into the comedy side of things, instead of trying to conjure something sadder in such a limited time, but when it works, it’s an entertaining and zippy little time machine back to 1999 that's certain to fill you with nostalgia, even if you weren’t there yourself.

Pirates is released in UK cinemas on 26 November.

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