★★★★ - DAILY MAIL
- Fisherman's Friends is an easy-going, gently moving treat which will surely go down as one of the most crowd-pleasing British films of the year.
When it comes to sea shanties, I’m very much of the school that a little goes a long way. I’m fine with a stirring chorus or two of What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor? but by the time we’ve got around to Blow The Man Down or Boney Was A Warrior for the second time, I’ve had enough.
I suspect I’m not entirely alone in that.
Well, the good news is that Fisherman’s Friends – a film that has sea shanties at its core – gets the amount of hearty, slightly nasal male singing just about right. We’re surprised and delighted when this unlikely-looking group of Cornish fishermen bursts into a harbourside chorus – wow, these guys can actually sing – but as we head deeper into the second hour, we’re quietly relieved that there are one or two non-singing storylines to hold our potentially flagging interest.
The result is an easy-going, gently moving, flagrantly commercial treat that will surely go down as one of the most crowd-pleasing British films of the year. And yet it definitely does not start out that way, struggling to shake off the impression that this has been casually, almost carelessly put together.
For starters, the casting seems just a little too adventurous for its own good. This, after all, is based on the true story of a group of Cornish fishermen who, back in 2010, became singing sensations.
And yet of the three leading characters, two are played by character actors well known for normally employing their own very different accents: David Hayman, a Scot, and Dave Johns, a Geordie.
Throw in Londoner Noel Clarke playing an American record company boss and that’s an awful lot of ‘acting’ going on.
Combine that with a rather clumsy script and a young director making only his second feature film, and you have a movie that definitely takes a while to hit its stride.
Never mind, we can always admire the scenery, which just happens to be Port Isaac, the picturesque fishing village made famous by TV’s Doc Martin.
Slowly, however, the film gains its sea legs, helped by very nice performances from the three actors most naturally suited to their roles: Somerset-born James Purefoy, who plays the singing group’s grumpy but still ruggedly handsome leader, Jim; Bristolian Tuppence Middleton, who plays his very pretty and conveniently divorced daughter, Alwyn; and Londoner Daniel Mays, the record company talent-spotter initially tricked into signing up the Fisherman’s Friends but who rapidly becomes convinced the ageing boy band has real potential.
Ah, but can Danny land them a record deal?
Purefoy, in particular, is terrific, authentically growling out lines about ‘bloody emmets’ (a derogatory Cornish term for incomers) and how ‘when you cross the Tamar bridge, you know you’re not in England any more’.
He must be quietly relieved, however, that in a screenplay that really does contain the line ‘Aye, it’s time to open that bottle of old Jamaica rum’, delivering duties fell to Hayman, who, happily by then, has also won us over.
As for the likeable Mays, who has built a successful career playing supporting character roles, it’s touching and rather lovely to see him relishing the chance to play the romantic lead for once.
Even the screenplay comes good. Having bungled the stag-weekend prank that gets the story rolling and underwritten the circumstances leading up to the group’s disastrous first performance, the writers serve up an enjoyable final third that moves, entertains and, alongside themes of friendship, loyalty and life-changing love, contains a perfectly judged sufficiency of sea shanties – just enough and no more.
Weigh, hey and blow this critic down, but they get there in the end. Aye, Jim lad, they do.
- Daily Mail