Fisherman's Friends

FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS. Starring: Daniel Mays, James Purefoy, David Hayman, Dave Johns, Sam Swainsbury, Tuppence Middleton, Noel Clarke, and others. Directed by Chris Foggin. Rated M (Coarse language). 111 min.

This British film is a biographical comedy-drama adapted from a screenplay written for the movie by Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard, and Piers Ashworth.

Moorcroft and Leonard coproduced the film, which is based loosely on a true story about a group of Cornish fishermen who swept the record charts, and achieved a top record hit with their first  album of traditional sea shanties.

In the film, a high-powered London music executive, who is a talent scout - Danny (Daniel Mays) - is charged by his boss, Troy (Noel Clarke), to sign up a local singing group. Troy was originally joking, but Danny moves to make the deal. He stays in a remote fishing village, Port Isaac, near Cornwall, where a group of all-male fishermen regularly performs in the harbour, singing sea shanties in their spare time.  Appreciating what he hears, and rather liking Cornwall, he tries to talk the fishermen into committing themselves to his record label, Universal Records.

At first Danny, encounters resentment and hostility; villagers don’t like him, and they resent his slick, city attitudes. Consequently, he struggles to gain the respect of the band which values friendship and community above fame and fortune. In trying to win its members over, however, he finds himself drawn towards the group’s sense of community, and he values what he finds. He is helped additionally by falling in love with one of the fishermen’s daughters, who runs the local B&B. James Purefoy and Tuppence Middleton play these locals very well.

The original band was comprised of genuine fishermen, an engineer, two builders, and a potter and the folk group performed in British pubs in the mid-1990s. Nine of the original singers had grown up in Port Isaac, which is the town made famous by the popular television show, “Doc Martin”. The beauty of Doc Martin’s village-surrounds is visibly obvious all throughout the movie.

The film focuses on the fictional character of Danny. In reality, he came to Cornwall to hear the group sing and almost immediately secured for it a million-pound recording contract. The band’s debut album quickly made the top 10. In the middle of their musical popularity, however, the group was hit by a tragic accident which does not feature at all in the movie. The decision to do that made the film a gentle comedy that might have had a stronger dramatic impact. Two members of the troupe were killed just before they went on stage before one of their concerts, when a stage door’s two-tonne motor and drive steel shaft collapsed on top of them.

The film that has resulted is a sweet-natured comedy that is predictable, but charming and very likeable. It is an engaging and warm-hearted movie, which sports a talented ensemble cast that maintains an underdog character while holding onto the integrity of individual personalities. The Director of the movie, Chris Foggin veers away from penetrating analysis of most of the characters in the singing group, but dramatises interpersonal - including romantic - tensions very well.

The film itself trades heavily on the cultural differences between urban London and scenic Cornwall, and pits the concept of a band of ageing fishermen against the notion of talented singers who triumph against the odds - reminding one a little of what Director, Peter Cattaneo managed to achieve so well in the popular British comedy, “The Full Monty” (1997).

This is a feel-good, gentle, amiable film suitable for wide viewing. The musical soundtrack is loud and enjoyably infectious, and the movie reaches genuine high points, especially when the group wins its audiences over in rollicking style with their interpretation of tunes as good as “Keep Hauling”, “South Australia”, and “What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor”.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Roadshow Films

Released November 21, 2019