Monday 15 August 2022

On demand: "Fisherman's Friends"

One of the last homegrown sleeper hits before Covid came calling, 
Fisherman's Friends is a musical true story passed through the Britfilm cookie cutter: it means to beguile us with the tale of how gruff Cornish provincials touting ribald sea shanties (briefly) became the toast of the record biz. Lusty ensemble singing and playing are the order of the day. James Purefoy adopts chunky sweaters and a chunkier southwestern accent as the head of a fishing crew with a monetizable sideline in vocal harmonies. Noel Clarke (in the final months before he became persona non grata) attempts an American twang as the executive who suggests signing the Fishermen's Friends as a joke. His envoy, wideboy arriviste Daniel Mays, soon gets into an argument with local single mum Tuppence Middleton over parking. Elsewhere, Dave Johns and David Heyman compete to see which salty oldtimer is going to have to cork it so as to give the third act its inevitable pathos. There's nothing you can't see coming a mile off, and nothing Bill Forsyth didn't do better in Local Hero some 40 years before: scenery and songs are invited to do a lot of the heavy lifting, and the quality control is all over the place, dependent more than anything upon who's on screen at any given moment.

Whenever Clarke's around, Fisherman's Friends appears makeshift and shopworn, as if the actual American actor the producers were hoping to land had dropped out at the very last minute. Yet in the company of Purefoy, Mays and Middleton, Chris Foggin's film at least nudges upwards in the direction of likable, and Purefoy in particular offers a near-teachable demonstration of the jobbing British actor's lot, forced as he finds himself to insert passing nuance, tiny insinuations of pride and hurt, into the yawning blank spaces between obvious plot points. (This script, by the individuals responsible for Finding Your Feet and - gulp - St. Trinian's, has next to no interest in detail: by the conclusion, the Friends have landed themselves a Top 10 album without being seen to spend one minute in the recording studio.) All a bit white, male and heteronormative, but otherwise as unobjectionable as the Radio 2 playlist, as cosily familiar as a Bank Holiday ITV special: its predetermined uplift doubtless provided some consolation for those real-world Cornishmen who trashed their own fishing industry by voting for Brexit, and it remains a mildly warming pasty, stuffed full of meat and potatoes, corn and cheese, for the rest of us. Stay tuned for the Eamonn Holmes cameo.

Fisherman's Friends is available to rent via Prime Video and YouTube; a sequel, Fisherman's Friends: One and All, opens nationwide on Friday, and will be reviewed here in due course.

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