In my 2019 review for “Fisherman’s Friends,” James Purefoy’s entry in the Real-Life-Underdog-Brits-Overcoming-Adversity genre, I said “the movie’s feel-good underdog story mixed with messages of decency and loyalty make it as refreshing as a gust of sea air in our cynical times.”
The true story of a group of Cornish fishermen whose LP of sea shanties became the biggest selling traditional folk album of all time, struck a chord with audiences who overlooked the movie’s formulaic, clearly manipulative aspects to embrace the uplift the story provided.
The sequel, “Fisherman’s Friends: One and All,” now playing in theatres, aims to continue the good times, but suffers from the sophomore slump.
The story picks up in 2011 during the “buoy band’s” UK tour. The shows are doing well, but controversy is stirred when singer Leadville (Dave Johns) cracks wise to a female journalist, a remark that quickly puts their record company PR department on edge. Label head Jez Chandra (Ramon Tikaram) fears the comment will reflect badly on the company, and wants to drop the band. “Moby Dick and the Whalers are not on message,” he snorts.
Back in their Port Isaac homebase the Fisherman’s Friends are facing a crisis. Lead singer Jim (Purefoy) is not coping well with the death of his father and bandmate Jago (David Hayman). “When father died,” he says, “the band died with him.”
When the band decides to move on and find a replacement for Jago, Jim melts down and quits. On a downward spiral, he begins a romance with burned out Irish rock star Aubrey, played by real life Irish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Imelda May. Sober for three years, she helps him clear his head and put him and the Fishermen on the road to their biggest gig yet, the Glastonbury Festival, supporting Beyonce.
Fans of the first film may have a sense of déjà vu while watching “Fisherman’s Friends: One and All.” Once again it is a mixture of predictability, formula and sea shanties. No surprises there. No surprises anywhere, in fact. Like day-old fish, it’s a bit stale but for fans it’s not about wild plot twists, it’s about the underdog characters. Looked down on by an industry that doesn’t understand them, the chipper sailors persevere, creating a place for themselves in their town and even on the stage at one of the world’s largest rock festivals. That sense of community, the one for all and all for one spirit, is heartwarming and gives the film whatever power it has.
Mixed in with the inspiration, is a shipload of drama, including an exploration of loss and grief, which is blunted somewhat by frequent glimpses of Jago’s ghostly presence in the corner of Jim’s eye, some mild peril at an abandoned mine and yes, another impromptu public performance that becomes into a turning point in their career. It feels very “been there, done that,” like watching a rerun of a show you only half remember, but it is amiable, aiming for your heart, not your head, and in that, it succeeds.