Charm isn’t easy to catch on the big screen but Fisherman’s Friends certainly reels it in.
The true(-ish) story of a London music exec who falls for a Cornish lass and signs up a group of shanty-singing fishermen while he’s down on the coast, this British film bursts with winning characters and a big beating heart. It might even have you joining in with a lusty chorus of What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor? Oh go on – earl-eye in the mornin’ and all that…
More crucially, it’s a film that also summons up an disappearing era. Not just of Britain, but of British film, tapping into the sort of ‘little men against the system’ vibe that was the Ealing stock-in-trade, a Passport to Pimlico or a Whisky Galore for the new century.
Cornwall – and the village of Port Isaac – are well and truly on the map here, despite the various dodgy accents of the actors hired to play the local fishermen. James Purefoy gives it the real ooh-arr while others struggle like a sea bream in a net, particularly famous Geordie comedian Dave Johns, who was I, Daniel Blake but whose accent can’t make the journey south.
Actually, such is the goodwill the film builds up, none of this accent stuff really matters. Danny Mays and Tuppence Middleton provide the heart, the love affair at the centre. Mays, one of our most likeable screen presences, is the fish out of water, the London music biz lad who’s left stranded on the beach by his mates on a stag weekend but who slowly falls for the rhythms of rural life – and the swell of the local fishermen’s choir.
True, he does spot a business opportunity in these age-old songs (it’s based on a true story that spawned a hit album) and it helps that the lead singer’s daughter is played by Tuppence Middleton with a winsome smile, a troubled past and an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop music. It makes her a prize catch for any team at the pub quiz, and a life saver for the city boy lost in the provincial eddy.
There are plenty of little laughs here on the narrow streets and higgledy cottages but there’s also, it seems to me, something deeper and more emotive going on in the face of these troubled political times. Yes, there’s the simple, old-fashioned escapism of a cute story well told, but Fisherman’s Friends is about local community and tradition without being separatist.
Cornish life and legend certainly trump London hurly-burly in this instance – there’s a lovely sequence of the fishermen all coming up to town to record their album and being stunned at the price of fish, not to mention the cost of beer. But there’s something more elemental in the yearning for civic pride and a need for togetherness that scatters a kind of magic.
From the poster and the premise, I wouldn’t have thought I’d like this film very much but it wins you over, striking notes of authenticity amid the corny Cornishness and chords of harmony as it chugs along, a reliable, redoubtable small boat of a British movie, powered by a charming couple, raucous shanties and buckets of fresh fish.