Movie review: Fisherman’s Friends

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

The world is ridiculously cruel and unfair at times.

We all know it, and while we do our best to navigate our way through and past life, there are times when you wish everything would end as happily as it does in fairytales.

Cue Fisherman’s Friends, a film that stares all that twisted malevolence in the eyes and dares all the imbalance of power, wealth and perspective to go and take a great big hike to the Cornish town of Port Isaac where lives a band of hardy fishermen who happen to sing the oldest of sea shanties in the most sublime of ways.

Sporting the dubious tagline of “Based on a true story”, Fisherman’s Friends actually has a great deal of truth woven into its uplifting cinematic DNA, with the fishermen very real people who were plucked from happy obscurity in 2010 and set on a wholly unexpected path that saw their debut album enter the British Hit Parade, as it’s charmingly referred to, at a stellar #9.

Not bad for people for people who were happy in their own little slice of England – to be fair, they are very much of the view that when you cross the River Tamar, which forms the eastern border of Cornwall, you are no longer in the poet Blake’s “green and pleasant land”; they are parochial but delightfully so – and wanted nothing more than to fish, be with their friends and families and spend nights in the pub The Golden Lion, regarded as the heart and soul of the village.

You know in your heart that no one’s life can be that idyllic and to be fair Fisherman’s Friends doesn’t present their lives as those of unending bucolic ease, with more than enough pain, loss and heartache to go around, but the key thing is they don’t need what Danny Anderson (Daniel Mays) is selling when his “friends” (use the term loosely), in Port Isaacs with him on a loutish stag weekend, trick him into trying to sign the fishermen up.

As is the way of these things, of course, what begins as a joke, one Anderson is unaware of meaning he treats his boss’s instructions as bona fide, soon becomes anything but as Anderson falls in love with the music these salt of the earth men created, with the men themselves, the village, and this being a cosy, life reaffirming British rom-com with all the quirkily sweet cliches happily in place, Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton), the daughter of one of the man who leads the group, gruff and taciturn Jim (James Purefoy).

Anderson, an amalgam of “the independent music producer Rupert Christie, who first discovered them, and Ian Brown, the music manager who took them on and scored them a contract with Island Records – and who still manages them” – for a look at the real Fisherman’s Friends, read The Sydney Morning Herald article from which this quote is taken – is not well received at first.

First he is an outsider from London, all bling, attitude and condescension and secondly he doesn’t exactly make the best of first impressions, getting drunk ocean boarding around the village with his workmates and necessitating rescue by the local Royal National Lifeboat Institution, all of whom are members of the group he tries to later turn into the unlikeliest of pop stars.

But this is a romantic comedy and so what begins as antipathy and rejection soon becomes bonhomie, acceptance and love, the kind of turn around that can happen in real life but which usually takes a great del more finagling and time and which doesn’t always guarantee a happy outcome.

But in Fisherman’s Friends, Anderson goes from pariah to pal, and in the face of trenchant opposition from his onetime work colleagues and friends who are as shallow as the inner reaches of Port Isaac’s harbour, he signs the men after much cajoling, quickly becoming one of the very same people he once unconsciously spurned as yokels.

In many ways, Fisherman’s Friends is all tired tropes and cliches, the very distillation of the been-there-done-that, warm-and-fuzzy British rom-com, with all the constituent parts in place.

We have the unwanted-then-born-again outsider, the very much unwanted opposition to the much-desired happy ever after, the close knit band of friends and family facing off against a not necessarily hostile but not exactly welcoming world, the romance between two polar opposites who turn out to be soulmates after all, a birth, a death and a kind of marriage and the just-over-the-rainbow ending that makes the heart soar, the face smile and the soul feel good about the world once more.

But the thing is – the makers of the film Chris Foggin directed to a screenplat by Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth take those well-worn pieces and fashion something wholly wonderful with them, gifting us with a film that celebrates the fact that life can throw up the most unexpected of surprises and turn our lives around in ways none of us saw coming.

There is embellishment in the tale of these men for sure, especially since while life can be a joy at times, it is rarely as narratively convenient as cinematic storytelling demands, but there is a great deal of truth there too, reassuringly delivering a tale that while unlikely, actually did by and large happen.

Suffused with rich humour and earthy humanity – the real members of Fisherman’s Friends remain unaffected by their fame, still joyfully singing in their village every Friday during the summer as they have for 30 years – the film is awash with the heady aroma of the sea but more importantly, that tantalising idea that life can be full of possibility.

Not everyone is seeking it out, not actively at least, but when it lands on your doorstep, not making the most of it would be foolish in the extreme, and watching Anderson and his new found friends and clients storm the mountains of impossiblity with gusto, glee, witty oneliners and a lively, likeable irreverence is a thing of pure delight that makes you laugh, restores your faith in life’s ability to delight and surprises and which revives the soul in ways you never knew you needed.

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