D: Chris Foggin / 112m
Cast: Daniel Mays, James Purefoy, Tuppence Middleton, David Hayman, Dave Johns, Sam Swainsbury, Maggie Steed, Vahid Gold, Christian Brassington, Meadow Nobrega, Noel Clarke
For city boy and music executive Danny Anderson (Mays), the thought of leaving London for the quieter environs of Cornwall, even for a friend’s stag do, goes against the grain. But when a planned sailing weekend fails to happen, Danny, his engaged friend, Henry (Brassington), colleague Driss (Gold), and boss Troy (Clarke), all find themselves having to be rescued when their paddle boarding excursion goes wrong. Afterwards, they find that their rescuers are part of a group of local fishermen well known for singing sea shanties. Danny is immediately impressed by them, and finds himself tasked by Troy to sign the fishermen to a record deal. Unaware that he’s being pranked – Troy has no intention of taking them on – Danny manages to persuade the men to make a demo recording that he can send to the record labels. Staying at the home of de facto group leader Jim (Purefoy), who is distrustful of “outsiders”, and finding himself growing more and more attracted to Jim’s daughter, Alwyn (Middleton), as well as the way of life there, Danny begins to understand why life in Port Isaac has more to offer than he could have ever expected…
Based on the true story of the Fisherman’s Friends, a group of Cornish fishermen whose distinctive renderings of traditional sea shanties has brought them fame (if not fortune), and even a spot on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury, Chris Foggin’s eponymous movie features the kind of heartfelt and sincerely handled narrative that is guaranteed to raise a smile and a tear, and sometimes even in the same scene. What makes it work so well isn’t the focus on the music – though there’s plenty of that, including a rousing rendition of What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor? – but the sense of community that the fishermen are a part of. Shot in Port Isaac, and with the town looking like an honest picture postcard version of itself, the movie doesn’t take long to woo the unsuspecting viewer with its various charms, not least the relaxed way of life on display, and the inhabitants’ positive atttudes about pretty much everything. A buoyant, ebullient sense of mischief also runs throughout the movie, with the men’s camaraderie allowing for a handful of comedic moments where pretensions are dismantled before they can take root… all of which is in stark contrast to the less amusing “humour” evinced by Troy and his sycophants. (Troy is the ostensible bad guy in the movie – but it doesn’t need one.)
With its knowing approach to the material, and a script that takes the time to add moments of poignancy to the mix, the movie is a celebration both of the sea shanties that the men sing and the tradition that keeps them from being forgotten. Again, the music is secondary to the feelings it evokes, and through the perfectly gauged performances, this appreciation is explored through a number of fine renditions that prove infectious and affecting. Mays is particularly good as the (entirely apt) fish out of water, succumbing to the love of a good woman, and the simple pleasures of Cornish life, while Purefoy makes more out of Jim’s sour demeanour than could have been expected; there are depths to his portrayal that aren’t necessarily in the script. With a number of minor sub-plots to round out the material, the movie isn’t afraid to explore more meaningful areas, such as absentee fathers, the perceived betrayal of a community, and the serious nature of what the men do away from singing. It’s ultimately light-hearted and often as whimsical as these things are usually, but Foggin ensures that it’s sprightly and entertaining in equal measure, and no one aspect of the narrative overwhelms all the others. A distinct and effective crowd pleaser, its message couldn’t be clearer: that heritage and tradition still have a vital role to play in modern day communities.
Rating: 8/10 – rousing, rambunctious, and hugely likeable, Fisherman’s Friends tells its story simply and with a great deal of subdued, yet appropriate style; beautiful Cornish locations and sterling cinematography by Simon Tindall add extra layers of charm to the material, and though it treads a very familiar path – Danny makes as many mistakes as he gets things right on the way to a hit record – this doesn’t detract from the sheer enjoyment to be found in such an unassuming movie.