In 2010, ten fisherman from Cornwall were signed by a Record Company and achieved a top ten hit with their album of Sea Shanties. As unlikely rags-to-riches stories go, the tale of the Fisherman’s Friends has all the vital ingredients that make for proper feel-good drama, especially one that producers and distributors froth at the mouth for. Director Chris Foggin brings said-story to screens, rejigged as a cosy countryside romantic-comedy, which offers a semi-fictional look at how the band’s success came to be.
Taking its narrative cue from films such as Local Hero (1983), Fisherman’s Friends turns its focus on record producer Danny (Daniel Mays), a fish-out-of-water city boy who is tricked by his fellow producers into signing up the local singing fishermen. Reluctant at first, Danny is soon drawn in by the culture and traditions of the fishing villagers, and makes it his mission to get them a record deal, despite much resistance from his colleagues.
There’s a lot going on throughout the film, and not all of it is given a fair amount of time to develop properly. There’s the obvious story of Danny and the Fishermen trying to get a record made, but there’s also a blossoming romance between Danny and the daughter of one of the band, Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton), and a subplot involving the village pub’s financial troubles (not to mention a list of main characters that reaches double figures).
This would be plenty, were it not for other narrative avenues that come and go with little-to-no reason. Alwyn’s father, Jim (James Purefoy), is injured during a sea rescue, but it’s superfluous to proceedings, never developing in any shape or form. Likewise, a bitter rivalry between Jim and Alwyn’s former father-in-law provides a single scene of contention, before disappearing altogether with nary a mention.
It’s these non-sequiturs and some other bizarre creative choices (Noel Clarke’s unconvincing American accent especially) which hinder and distract from what should have been a straightforward comedy-drama about an unlikely chart-topping sensation. Worse still, the film doesn’t know when to quit – the last 20 minutes or so feel unnecessary and drag events along at a snail’s pace, despite the main crux of the story having more-or-less wrapped up already.
In and amongst the clutter though are some excellent performances which keep proceedings engaging, despite the paper-thin characterisation and clichéd plot. Daniel Mays once again proves to be a perfectly likeable leading man, possessed of that priceless everyman quality that ensures relatability and exudes warmth. James Purefoy is also well-cast as grizzled fisherman and family man Jim, lending the film’s more dramatic moments plenty of gravitas, which is perfectly counterbalanced when glimpses of the character’s more playful side start to come through in the film’s lighter moments.
Anyone who’s listened to the Fisherman’s Friends, whether live or on the radio in the car, will know what a treat they are to listen to, and the film is a fine platform for their talents. The injection of a rather soppy romance and some drama about big businessmen buying a pub does distract, but when the film turns its focus solely on the titular musicians, it’s a dead cert to entertain existing fans and win over plenty more.
Cast: Daniel Mays, James Purefoy, Tuppence Middleton, Dave Johns, Noel Clarke, David Hayman Director: Chris Foggin Writer: Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard, Nick Moorcroft Certificate: 12A Duration: 112 mins Released by: Entertainment Film Distributors Release date: 15th March 2019