Another entry in the Real-Life-Underdog-Brits-Overcoming-Adversity genre of movies—think “The Full Monty,” “Calendar Girls” and more recently “Military Wives”—“Fisherman’s Friends,” now on VOD, is a good-natured crowd pleaser with some deep laughs but no major surprises.
Daniel Mays is Danny, a “proper bigshot” London music biz executive, on a quick weekend get-a-way with some mates in Port Isaac in Cornwall. They are fish out of water in the village. The locals poke fun at their city-slicker ways, treating them like outsiders. “We have our ways down here,” Jim (James Purefoy) warns Danny, “and once you cross the River Tamar you’re not in England anymore. We’re a land apart. You get my drift, son?”
After hearing a local group of fishermen, led by Jim, Jago (David Hayman) and Leadville (Dave Johns), singing a cappella sea shanties Danny’s pals jokingly convince him that he should sign the band to a record contract. He’s skeptical at first, but there’s something about the music that speaks to his soul. But first, he has to persuade the fishermen who are suspicious of his motives. “We have no need to sell our souls for fifteen minutes of fame,” Jim tells him.
His friends can’t believe he fell for the joke. “Do you really think we’d sign a boy band with the combined age of 643?”
But, convinced the public will want to see real people with real talent communicating 500 years of naval history, Danny perseveres. “In a world saturated with manufactured pop bands,” he says, “the fishermen are a real catch.” Plus, he’s fallen for life in the village and Jim’s daughter Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton).
The story of the band’s success is almost stranger than fiction. In real life The Fisherman’s Friends “buoy band” signed a contract with Island Records and their debut went on to become the biggest selling traditional folk album of all time. “Fisherman’s Friends” keeps the bones of the real story but amps up the big emotional moments. The highs soar and the lows have a heartfelt sentimentality. None of it quite feels like reality but by the time the end credits roll it’s clear that Port Isaac in Cornwall is a nice place to visit for 115 minutes.
“Fisherman’s Friends” is formulaic, clearly manipulative, and any sense of subtlety was clearly cut adrift around the second draft of the script but the story’s feel-good underdog story mixed with innate messages of decency and loyalty make it as refreshing as a gust of sea air in our cynical times. “We stick together down here,” Says Jago. “One and all. That’s the difference between sinking or swimming in a place like this.” A good message, even when delivered with a heavy hand.