Based on a true story, Fisherman’s Friends, directed by Chris Foggin, is a feel-good, musical fairy tale set in beautiful Cornwall.
Buoy Bandby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Fisherman’s Friends could perhaps become the ultimate British feel-good movie – The Full Monty, but this time with songs, sea and sou’westers. Based on a slightly fictionalised version of real events, it’s set in Port Isaac on the beautiful Cornish coast and it has stunning views of harbour and sea. Renamed as Portwenn, the small working fishing port can also be seen on ITV as the location for the Doc Martin series.
A group of singing fishermen from Port Isaac – the Fisherman’s Friends – have a reputation locally for their rousing renditions of traditional songs and shanties. When a group of trendy record company executives arrive from London for a stag weekend and hear them sing, the fishermen’s lives are suddenly changed.
As a joke, brash boss Troy (Noel Clarke with a strange American accent) orders unwitting Danny (Daniel Mays) to get the group a recording deal with a major label or lose his job. Not realising he’s been had, Danny perseveres, first to overcome the men’s disbelief, then their hostility – and finally the incredulity of record companies. Progress is slow, so he stays on in Port Isaac after his colleagues return to London.
But Port Isaac weaves its magic on the out-of-place outsider. Danny falls in love with sweet-natured single-mother Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton), who just happens also to be the daughter of the fisherman most opposed to a record deal (James Purefoy). Danny makes it his mission to get that record deal.
As Danny slowly earns acceptance by the community, he learns the importance of the history and traditions that bind its members so closely together. When something he has done unthinkingly could threaten the community that he has come to love, he tries to put things right again. He has learnt a new respect for the people he was, basically, hoping to exploit.
The Fisherman’s Friends group’s evocative, catchy, full-throated singing is rollicking enough to shake the rafters, whether they’re performing in Cornwall, snooty offices in London or in Shoreditch pubs, where even the hipsters join in. The fishermen are a close-knit, rough-hewn crew including, among others Dave Johns (I, Daniel Blake). Daniel May is surprisingly convincing in his central role and his unassuming charm holds the whole thing together. All performances are excellent, though the screenplay, by Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft, in dealing with so many ensemble characters, only really has time for them to be rather one-dimensional.
It’s a feel-good fairy tale, well made by director Chris Foggin (Effie Grey), though like many British films, it touts a slightly rose-tinted, cartoonish version of real life, but pride in Cornish culture comes across well. With the benefit of hindsight, we know it turns out happily for the launch of the Fisherman’s Friends’ singing career, so no surprises, and there’s heart-warming rom-com resolution too for characters who can embrace the values of the Port Isaac community. Climb aboard, enjoy and start planning your summer holiday.
Fisherman’s Friends is released on 15 March 2019 in the UK.