2019’s Fisherman’s Friends – essentially Local Hero with Cornish sea shanties – was one of the last homegrown sleeper hits before Covid pulled into port. This patched-up sequel/footnote feels like the British film industry trying to resume where it left off, even as half the original’s leads have jumped ship.
No sign this time round of sympathetic A&R man Daniel Mays and love interest Tuppence Middleton (redirected to Australia), nor nefarious record exec Noel Clarke (designated unsafe for work). Instead, we greet the varyingly grizzled survivors returning from the tour that concluded film one and confronting the pressures that follow from late-life success.
Tersely alcoholic frontman Jim (James Purefoy) starts talking to his late father’s spirit (David Hayman), an understandable response to being asked to dress up as a fish finger for publicity purposes. Conveniently, a lifebuoy drifts into shot: B&B guest Aubrey Flynn, an Irish singer “who had a couple of hits in the Nineties”; she’s played by the sporadically prominent Irish singer Imelda May, by way of (accidental?) self-reflexivity.
Promoted to the director’s seat, original screenwriters Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft are themselves wrestling with the idea of midlife course correction – and sending the Friends off for sensitivity training nimbly addresses criticisms that the first film was very pale-male-and-stale. (Purefoy even has a few lines in Cornish, in a bid to ward off charges of cinematic tourism.)
Again, though, the quality control varies scene by scene. The Jim-Aubrey sundown romance charms, but Leonard and Moorcroft get distracted by misadventures elsewhere, including a child stuck down an abandoned mineshaft, this script’s most bizarrely retro diversion.
Only the music holds their interest, and then only as reassuring vibes. Stirring harmonies are inserted with the regularity of Fast & Furious pileups, but the Friends are apparently the only band who’ve recorded an album without ever entering a studio.
Mildly amiable and mildly amusing, it looks like a Doc Martin spin-off and still feels far more like a fun holiday for its makers than it does appointment cinema – but then we critics said the same about the first film, and look how that worked out.
The verdict? An afterthought, albeit one with flashes of the original’s confounding charm.
Fisherman's Friends: One and All opens in cinemas nationwide tomorrow.