As you all know by now, I am a self professed ‘bastard for a musical’. Never before though, has my musical obsession breached the world of traditional sea shanties! If there is one thing I know for sure about British cinema, it is the you can turn to it any time you are in need of a pleasant, inoffensive feel good pick me up. Throw in the added element of ‘based on a true story, and you’re away. Of course, that British seal and sensibility doesn’t always make for a winner, so which end of the spectrum would Fisherman’s Friends end up on?
As it turns out, pretty much smack bang in the middle. Inspired by true events, the film tells the story of a group of singing Cornish fisherman who are discovered by Danny Anderson (Daniel Mays), a London based record producer, when he travels to Port Isaac on a stag weekend with some friends. Originally tasked to sign them as a silly bet, Danny is quickly won over by the group’s charm, lead by Jim (James Purefoy) and his father Jago (David Hayman), and a blossoming romance with Jim’s daughter Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton) strengthens his ties not only to the band of men but also to the allure and energy of the coastal village.
On the whole, Fisherman’s Friends provides you with exactly the sort of light, jolly entertainment that you go in expecting. The narrative is presented in a much neater and tighter package than I’m sure the real story was, but it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a documentary. This is exactly the type of movie that your grandmother would love, and there is nothing wrong with that, just don’t expect to be blown away. I usually have an aversion to anything that feels too ‘pleasant’ or twee, but there is something in the gruffness of the cast of fisherman characters, and a few fun little passages about the cultural differences between Cornwall and the rest of England, that can’t help but put a little smile on your face.
In many ways, the film’s themes are ones that we have seen a million times before in a million different stories, themes like friendship over success, brotherhood, discovering the things that really matter, success against the odds etc., but seeing them played out in a completely different setting than I have experienced before brings a small amount of freshness to proceedings. The Cornish way of life and the world of sea shanties isn’t something that I’m at all familiar with, so it’s fair to say that I probably had a more interesting time watching Fisherman’s Friends that I would with an identical type of story set in an urban, pop music focused environment. The film definitely feels a little bit novel, and you can definitely feel the points at which the true story and the artistic license are welded together, but to be honest, I can’t have any searing criticism of a picture that is so completely inoffensive.
In a cast with so many different characters, the film feels much more like a true ensemble piece than anything else, although a handful of performers do anchor the story for the audience. As Danny, Daniel Mays certainly plays up the ‘London lad’ stereotype, but he manages to capture that cheeky chappy charm that wins you over. The character feels a little bit too idealistic and too good to be true to come across as a genuine cut throat record producer, but for the overall neat vibe of the film, Mays and his performance fits the bill.
James Purefoy comes forward to make himself known as the leading man on the fisherman side of things, and he is as Cornwall, as gruff, as traditionally ‘manly’ as you would hope a protective patriarch to be. Purefoy has a husky charisma that really works against the more energetic, high pitched attitude of Mays, and the two follow the age old arc of the unlikely friendship to a tee.
Tuppence Middleton doesn’t have all that much to do as Jim’s daughter Alwyn, but she does manage to show some character and agency at important parts of the narrative. She provides a look at Cornish life that isn’t all about fishing and singing, so in that sense Alwyn helps to flesh out the film’s universe ever so slightly. The chemistry she shares with Mays as Danny is enjoyable if not completely enthralling, certainly enough for the general tone of the movie. The rest of the fisherman are all portrayed enjoyably by the large cast of actors, too many to name check but rest assured that nobody lets the side down!
Overall, Fisherman’s Friends is the kind of the movie that does exactly what it says on the tin. A jolly, inoffensive adventure that is punctuated by some really beautiful Cornish scenery and a few traditional shanties that will have even the most cynical of viewers tapping their toe. If you’re looking for a gift for any family member over the age of sixty in the next few months, then look no further than the DVD of this!