Thu, 25 Apr 2019
Fisherman’s Friends (12A)
Running time 1hr 52 min
YOU know the type – the ‘small’, ‘quirky’, unfailingly schmaltzy British movie that appears cynically calculated to melt hearts, storm the national box office and maybe even bag a few Baftas. Fisherman’s Friends is the latest exemplar of this pseudo-genre, an excruciatingly quaint biopic that charts the fortunes of a Cornish novelty band. As palatable Saturday-afternoon-at-the-pictures fare, it hits all the right notes, packed with fetching shanties and provincial hijinks, but it’s formulaic to a fault and possessed of the briniest of edges, its script as rigid as a wizened seadog. Still, it’s fantastically inoffensive, as
nourishing and forgettable as a middling Sunday roast.
This is a film that savours the little things – depending on your tolerance for charming, gooey nonsense, that’s either its selling point or its Achilles heel. Its idyllic Port Isaac is peopled by hoary-voiced seamen, eternally suspicious of tourists and their ungodly ways; a cheating controversy at a pub quiz represents the apex of the film’s drama. The world’s lamest stag do brings high-flying music exec Danny (Daniel Mays) to the town; he’s in the throes of a midlife crisis, struggling to
identify with the loathsome city slickers he’s taken as an entourage. Enter the Fisherman’s Friends, a local a cappella outfit who take pride in being the least marketable thing this side of the A30. Initially in jest, Danny resolves to get them a record deal and is gradually won over by the band’s stubbornness and wit, all the while courting Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton), the tenacious daughter of one among the singers.
The musical numbers, while familiar, are performed with laudable gusto. The film brims with staunchly regional touches and flourishes, even if it does occasionally feel as if said regionalism was, in fact, concocted by a committee in a cushy London office. There’s a fun sequence where the Friends, invited to sing the national anthem on live radio, instead belt out a rendition of the Cornish national anthem; the leader of the group (James Purefoy, on gloomy form) humbles Danny with nuggets of coastal wisdom. It’s when the film eschews this parochialism to seek out a broader appeal that it truly backfires – the gags frequently fall flat, a tendency best exemplified by a hackneyed Reservoir Dogs paean. The band are an amiable bunch, though the screenplay renders them an amorphous, Borg-like entity, largely without the foibles and idiosyncrasies that would have made them individually worth talking about. Still, it’s great to see the likes of Dave Johns (star of I, Daniel Blake) on the big screen again. While it takes creative liberties along the way, Fisherman’s Friends doesn’t go nearly as far as it could have in embellishing its true-life underdog story, keen to remain true to its earthy, unmistakably Cornish roots. In the age of the mega-budget studio picture, that’s to be commended.