Review: Fisherman’s Friends
by David Katz
- An amateur folk-singing group consisting of ten Cornish fishermen gains unlikely UK chart success in this feel-good British comedy by Chris Foggin
The old-fashioned feel-good Brit flick shows no signs of sinking with Fisherman’s Friends [+see also:
film profile], which follows the unlikely rise of a modern-day Cornish sea shanty-singing troupe. Loosely based on a true story, this light comedy-musical places a fictionalised version of the real-life band into a syrupy fable of redemption and underdog pluck.
While aimed primarily at the domestic market (where it was released this week by Entertainment Film Distributors, somewhat overperforming at the box office), the film has nonetheless also scored pre-sales in Spain (Sun Distribution) and Scandinavia (Scanbox). But despite a game cast including respected thesps like James Purefoy and Tuppence Middleton, the film falls far short of the Full Monty- and Calendar Girls-type appeal it is aiming for, as the amiable premise is capsized by some seriously sloppy writing and plotting.
With perfectly good intentions, the film’s writers (Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft) try to ground its story as a stand-off between metropolitan and rural Britain. Director Chris Foggin begins with some striking shots of Port Isaac, Cornwall, still thriving thanks to its fishing industry and tourist appeal. Into this picturesque haven comes Danny (Daniel Mays) and his London music talent-agency buddies (Noel Clarke and Christian Brassington), on a lads’ getaway stag weekend. The proud locals tolerate the wealthy, condescending out-of-towners up to a point; once they are out of sight, traditional Cornish idioms like “emmet” (meaning “ant”) are muttered under their breath.
Towards the end of their trip, the Londoners happen upon an outdoor public concert being held by the Fisherman’s Friends on the main pier. Pitched as the “rock and roll of 1752”, the group of ten raggedly dressed fishermen storms through classic sea shanties to the delight of an all-ages crowd. Some have bawdy lyrics (one of the older singers yells, “Anyone want to suck on a Fisherman’s Friend?”), but the atmosphere is like a spirited country church fete. Astounded by the folk-music authenticity on display, Danny offers to represent the Friends, and begins an unlikely quest to get them signed by a major record label (and to woo the lovely local landlady Alwyn, played by Middleton).
So far, so charming. But in its second half, the film begins to add a slew of bum notes to its score. A lengthy subplot about the ownership of Port Isaac’s prized local tavern feels tacked on and too familiar from films of this type. Then there’s a toe-curling sequence where the Friends, in the city to seek fame and fortune, engage a trendy East London pub in an unlikely sing-along of “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?” Utterly unrealistic, it’s an emblem of the filmmakers’ struggle to do cinematic justice to this sweetly eccentric and very British true tale.
In actuality, the Fisherman’s Friends were discovered in 2009 by BBC Radio presenter Johnnie Walker, and went on to get some great exposure in the national media, along with appearances at festivals like Glastonbury. In its early stretches, this film version has the warmth of Ken Loach’s recent work, such as The Angels’ Share [+see also:
interview: Ken Loach
film profile] and Looking for Eric [+see also:
interview: Cannes 2009
interview: Steve Evets - actor
film profile] (indeed, Dave Johns from I, Daniel Blake [+see also:
film profile] has a small role as one of the Friends). All through its running time, you wonder what a more artful and wisdom-laden version of this slight story might resemble.
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