FILM REVIEW – FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS. With James Purefoy, Daniel Mays, Meadow Nobrega, David Hayman, Sam Swainsbury. Written by Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard, Nick Moorcroft. Directed by Chris Foggin. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, and suggestive references. 112 minutes. Available on digital, on demand July 24.
They couldn’t possibly have known it when they were making FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS, but this is precisely the film we need right now. There is a long line of quirky comedies from England, Scotland, and Ireland––movies like “Tight Little Island,” “Local Hero” and “Waking Ned Devine”––that presents us with a cast of irresistible and quirky characters who are just a joy to watch. This is an unabashedly “feel-good” movie and one we’ve richly earned.
Danny (Daniel Mays) works as a promoter in the music business in London when he and his colleagues take off for a vacation in Cornwall. He’s left behind there with instructions to sign the local fishermen who they hear singing sea chanties. It’s a prank on Danny, but he doesn’t know that and so he proceeds to befriend the locals including their leader Jim (James Purfoy), and his daughter Tamsyn (Meadow Nobrega), a single mother.
Much of the early humor comes from Danny being the proverbial “fish-out-of-water.” The fishermen see him as a city slicker, to be made fun of and not to be trusted. Yet he wins them over and they win us over. You may not have given much thought to sea chanties, but there’s a reason these tuneful airs have endured. In a scene that could have been from a Frank Capra movie, they take over a London pub and soon have a roomful of urban hipsters singling along with them.
The overall plot follows a conventional story of the group getting their big break, and then some troubles arising. We’re carried along by the music and the lovable oddballs, including David Hayman and Maggie Steed as Jim’s parents, and Tuppence Middleton as Tamsyn’s precocious daughter. The core of the movie is Purfoy, whose life has not been perfect but stands for the values he and the others feel are worth preserving, and Mays, as the earnest urbanite who “goes native” and comes to appreciate what he’s missed in his life.
However, the film opens on a false note, claiming it is “based on a true story.” One should always take such claims with a grain of salt––sea salt, if you will––but it’s especially so here. There is, indeed, a group of performing fishermen known as “Fisherman’s Friends” (a play on a popular throat lozenge), but as we’re told at the film’s end, when we see photos of the real singers, the story and characters we have just enjoyed are a total fabrication.
So, by all means, enjoy this utterly delightful movie. Just know that it’s a fish tale, not a documentary.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.