Fisherman’s Friends is an amiable and upbeat British comedy with a flavour of Ealing Studios and The Full Monty about it. The Fisherman’s Friends really were signed by a major record label, had a top 10 hit, and turned into a full-blown media sensation. The film takes considerable liberties with their story, but fans of extra mature Cornish cheddar won’t be complaining. What stops Fisherman’s Friends entirely sticking in the craw is the casting, the good humour and, of course, the songs themselves. The performances are very likeable indeed. Old timers like Dave Johns (star of Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake) and David Hayman squeeze every last bit of humour and pathos from their roles as the singing sea dogs. The ditties themselves are put across with plenty of relish and even a song as familiar as Drunken Sailor seems fresh when roared out in a London pub by the band.
Daniel Mays (looking a little like a young George Cole as a spiv in a St Trinian’s film) is the music exec Danny who comes to Port Isaac with his obnoxious friends for a stag do. The locals regard them with just as much hostility as you might expect. They’re ‘tossers’, ‘wankers from London’, the types who regard Cornwall as a place to buy a second home and visit once or twice a year at most. The tight-knit Port Isaac community doesn’t welcome strangers anyway. Troy (Noel Clarke), one of the Londoners, tricks Danny into trying to sign up the group. Cue the predictable comic scenes in the pub in which the music exec tests his snake oil salesman-style patter out on the fishermen and they gleefully ridicule him. Danny won’t give up, though. He has an added incentive for prolonging his time in town in the shape of Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton), his landlady at the B&B where he is staying, and the daughter of one of the fishermen.
Gradually, we learn more and more about the community. The pub, the spiritual centre of the town, is heavily in debt. The fishermen have experienced all the predictable upheaval – bereavement, broken relationships and the like. Alwyn is a single mother. Her former partner is conspicuous by his absence whenever it is his turn to look after their daughter. Her father Jim (played in brooding fashion by James Purefoy) is intensely suspicious of an outsider like Danny. At times, his attitude towards the Londoner is as hostile as that of Peter Vaughan towards Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs (also Cornish-set). He talks darkly about a man’s word being ‘as strong as Cornish oak’. Jim suspects that a limp-wristed Londoner like Danny might go back on a promise.
As a contrast to the Port Isaac scenes, there is an interlude in London, where Danny brings the Fisherman’s Friends to perform as they try to convince the record companies they’re worth taking a punt on. The fishermen are aghast at the price of beer – £53.80 for 10 pints. They’re even more startled by the price of fish.
Venue: William Loveless Hall