From the producers of Finding Your Feet, Fisherman’s Friends tells the quirky true life story of a group of Cornish trawlers who found their voices. It’s also the tale of a slick city executive – the sort in need of a strong word and redemptive arc – and of how small town singers became a viral smash. You know the type of film this is. Throw in a handful of well-liked Brit flick stars for bait and it’s a case of hook, line and feel good sinker.
Fisherman’s Friends is that very British brand of film that essentially negates the value of a review. It’s reliable, predictable and textbook likeable. From an opening shot – of the sea – that could never have been any other, to a zoom-back finale as twee as they come. Road bumps are inevitable, humanity is to be treasured and the oldest member of the cast doesn’t stand a chance of seeing it out. As a bonus, this one comes with a lively soundtrack – available from all good retailers – chockablock with mighty fine sea shanties performed splendidly by a gung-ho ensemble. This is toe tapping, rib tickling, heartwarming fun and the grey pound will love every cod darn minute of it.
Daniel Mays is the tale’s city boy turned good – its fish out of water – in the role of career-bachelor Danny, a high-flying London music producer with an ear for hits. It is whilst on a stag do in the Cornish town of Port Isaac that Danny discovers the film’s premiere buoy band at work. For the most part, they’re fishermen, coastguards and lifeboatmen but once a week the rag tag gang gather for a singsong on the harbour side. When Danny’s obnoxious American boss (Noel Clarke) hoaxes him into attempting to sign the band, by way of a prank, he goes hell for leather. Initial reluctance soon caves, eased along by looming debts and the lure of profit, and the rest is history. Except, factual this is not. The real Fisherman’s Friends were ‘discovered’ by Johnny Walker, having already produced a trio of self-made albums. This version is more cinematic, albeit a crowbarred job. Note how the band’s actual 2010 label – Universal – is switched here to that distributing the film’s soundtrack.
Outwit the group’s rise to the folkdom hall of fame, writers Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth find room for a very obvious love story – poor Tuppence Middleton does well to sell it – and hints at a darkness that never quite hits the mark. Twists come signposted a mile ahead and there’s precious little original. The film finds itself on surer waters when channelling the likes of Whisky Galore and mining twinkles for genially make believe cheer. David Heyman and I, Daniel Blake’s Dave Johns are terrific to this end, whilst Mays once again demonstrates eloquently his capacity for absolute emotional integrity. Even if his character never really existed, that is. To the film’s credit, there’s an earnest quality to its good humour and sense that at least some of the anecdotal happenings on screen were drawn from reality. If the story stretches plausibility, the characters feel real enough to sell it.
Kids in Love director Chris Foggin shoots all with competence and finds a good match for his traditionalist tone in cinematographer Simon Tindall. Cornwall, as ever, provides picture perfection and fans of ITV drama Doc Martin should recognise more than one of the film’s locations. If the edit and pacing are a little on the disjointed side, the trajectory unfailingly heads to its own true north. Formulaic? Sure. But heartfelt and funny enough to work it.